White Privilege in Higher Ed

By Craig Martin

Yesterday I was walking down the hall past the two main computer labs at my college. One lab is open to all students; the second is set aside for graphic design majors. When I walked by I noted that the main lab was almost entirely full with minority students—primarily African-American students and students who probably identify as Puerto Rican or Dominican. By contrast, the graphics design lab, full of brand new and expensive Apple computers, was almost entirely empty: there was only one white student in it.

It got me wondering: what social structures could account for this disparity?

Possibilities that came to mind (which might be completely wrong—I’m just brainstorming here):

  1. On average minority students are less likely to come from wealthy families and are therefore less likely to have their own computers in their dorm rooms.
  2. White students are more likely to be drawn to graphic design than minorities, because—growing up with more wealth (again, on average)—they are more likely to arrive at college “comfortable” with advanced computer applications.

Possible effects:

  1. White students disproportionately benefit from the more expensive and nicer computers in the graphic design computer lab.
  2. Minority students are disadvantaged because they are more likely to have to wait to use a computer—and one that is probably considerably older than the ones in the design lab.

Whatever the reason, it’s unlikely that random chance sufficiently explains why the computer labs are racially divided in this manner—and it seems that this phenomenon deserves our attention. Where is your campus racially divided?

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