The Emotional Toll of Racism [downloadable]

Black students continuously experience, fight against and bear emotional scars from racism, which can lead to increased anxiety and poor mental health outcomes. Some colleges are just starting to address these issues.

Black students at many predominantly white colleges have long complained of the racial hostility, subtle and blatant, that they regularly encounter on their campuses. Whether victims of constant microaggressions or outright verbal or physical assaults, many have stories of being called a racial slur directly or seeing it scrawled on a campus wall, viewing racist posts by classmates on social media, or sitting through a presentation by a classmate professing a white supremacist conspiracy. The incidents were the focal points of protest movements and demands for change for several years, but the calls for action seemed to reach a crescendo this year as Black students at colleges across the country repeatedly called for college administrators to condemn and address racism on their campuses.

The national racial justice movement fueled by outrage over the police killings of George Floyd and other unarmed Black people has given the students’ cause momentum and forced college administrators to act more forcefully and urgently to speak out against racism and implement diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. But even as the students welcome that they are finally being heard, their efforts have come with a heavy price.

Students of color who engage in activism and leadership frequently sideline their own mental health needs to focus on the fight for racial justice on their campuses. They have less time and emotional bandwidth to dedicate to typical student experiences, such as creating and maintaining personal relationships and a social life, performing academically and navigating what is likely their first time living away from home. Black student leaders noted that the amount of stress they endure and the time-consuming nature of activist work — plus the racist incidents that inspire this work — can cause students to fall behind in their studies or can become so emotionally burdensome that they drop out.

College administrators, in surveys, repeatedly list student mental health as one of their top concerns and improving it as one of their top priorities. They have focused more attention on setting and meeting diversity and inclusion goals to hire and promote more Black faculty members, administrators and professional staff and pursued new ways to improve the lives of students of color on campus, as conversations about racial injustice in American institutions continue.

More often than not, students who experience racism on campus are left feeling invalidated, ignored and undervalued by administrators who consistently maintain that hateful speech is protected under the First Amendment or require students injured and offended by such speech to seek redress through bureaucratic and time-consuming processes that significantly slow the policy changes they want and need to feel comfortable being Black on campus.

Psychologists and other experts say that addressing racism in a meaningful way on campus can improve these students’ mental health.

The Steve Fund, a youth mental health advocacy organization that focuses on equity and young people of color, recently formed a coronavirus crisis-focused task force, which issued recommendations for how educational institutions should respond to the increased mental health needs of students of color during this time. The task force, which includes students, mental health experts, corporate and nonprofit executives, and college representatives, is the “first time leaders from across sectors have come together to consider the mental health status and needs of young Americans of color,” a report about the task force recommendations said.

Excerpted from “The Emotional Toll of Racism” in Inside Higher Ed. Read the full article for more details as well as recommendation from the Steve Fund report, which is also dowloadable as a PDF.

Source: Inside Higher Ed | The Emotional Toll of Racism, | Copyright © 2020 Inside Higher Ed
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