Counseling Center

University of Maryland

College Park, Maryland



Student Perceptions of the Campus Cultural Climate by Race

Julie R. Ancis, William E. Sedlacek, & Jonathan J. Mohr

Research Report # 1-98



The computer time was provided by Academic Information Technology Services



Counseling Center

University of Maryland

College Park, Maryland


Student Perceptions of the Campus Cultural Climate by Race

Julie R. Ancis, William E. Sedlacek, & Jonathan J. Mohr

Research Report # 1-98



Five hundred and seventy-eight African-American, Asian-American, Latino, and White undergraduates responded to a questionnaire assessing perceptions and experiences of the campus cultural climate. Results revealed significant differences among racial and ethnic groups on multiple dimensions of the campus cultural climate. African-American students consistently reported significantly more interracial and interethnic conflict on campus; pressure to conform to stereotypes; and less equitable treatment by faculty, staff, and teaching assistants. White students' responses reflected limited perceptions of inter-racial/ethnic tensions and a University climate characterized by respect for diversity. Counseling and programmatic implications are presented.

Student Perceptions



Given the multicultural makeup of U.S. college and university campuses, it seems essential to examine differences in students' experiences of the campus cultural climate. Much of the research which has examined students' perceptions of the university climate has focused solely on one racial/ethnic group (typically Whites or African-Americans), has compared African-American students to their White counterparts, or has compared White students to a racially/ethnically heterogeneous group of students of color (e.g., Allen, 1987; 1992; Fleming, 1984; Follet, Andberg, & Hendel, 1982; Loo & Rolison, 1986; McClelland & Auster, 1990; Nettles, Thoeny, & Gosman, 1986). It can be expected that African-American, Asian-American, Latino, and White students posses different perceptions of the academic environment as a function of their unique historical background, cultural values, and adjustment experiences (Change, 1988; Hurtado, Carter, Spuler, 1996; Minatoya & Sedlacek, 1983). However, few studies have compared various racial and ethnic groups' perceptions of the campus cultural climate. Such information can be used to develop programs aimed at creating a university environment which fosters all students' academic and social potential.

The purpose of the present study was to compare African-American, AsianAmerican, Latino, and White students' perceptions and experiences of the campus cultural climate. In contrast to previous investigations, the present study explored perceptions and experiences regarding multiple dimensions of the campus cultural climate.



Participants were 578 undergraduates (307 first-year, 271 juniors) enrolled at a large mid-Atlantic university. First-year students and juniors were targetted as they represent a range of exposure to the university campus. Participant's self-reported race/ethnicity was as follows: 136 African-Americans, 130 Asian-Americans, 77

Student Perceptions



Latinos, and 235 Whites. A total of 324 of the participants were female and 254 male; with approximately equal proportions of males and females of each racial and ethnic group. The mean age of participants was 20 years, with a range of 17 to 42 years.


The Cultural Attitudes and Climate Questionnaire (CACQ) is designed to measure students' perceptions and experiences of the university racial and ethnic climate. Using a Likert-type scale, students report their level of agreement with 100 statements regarding the campus climate. Eleven factors were identified using principle axis factor analysis and varimax rotation, accounting for 48% of the total variance. The 11 Factors are as follows: (1) Racial Tension (alpha = .73, perception and experience of racial conflict on campus), (2) Cross-Cultural Comfort (alpha = .73, comfort with racially/ethnicity similar and dissimilar faculty and peers), (3) Diversity Awareness (alpha = .67, sensitivity to racial/ethnic differences), (4) Racial Pressures (alpha = .60, pressure to conform to racial/ethnic stereotypes), (5) Residence Hall Tension (1 item, perception of interracial and interethnic conflict in residence halls), (6) Fair Treatment (alpha = .74, experience of fair treatment by faculty, teaching assistants, and students), (7) Faculty Racism (alpha = .77, experience of racist atmosphere perpetuated by faculty), (8) Respect for Other Cultures (alpha = .62, faculty and student respect for different racial and ethnic groups), (9) Support (alpha = .63, experience of help and support from faculty, students, and teaching assistants), (10) Comfort with own Culture (alpha = .55, comfort with own racial/ethnic background), (11) Overall Satisfaction (alpha = .78, experience of university environment as academically and socially rewarding).


This study was conducted as part of a campus diversity evaluation committee program. The university studied had implemented extensive diversity programming in academic and nonacademic areas for several years. The CACQ was mailed to 964

Student Perceptions



first and third year students using stratified random sampling to ensure sufficient racial and ethnic representation. Additional items pertaining to respondents' race, class and gender were included on the questionnaire to verify information on student records. Respondents returned completed anonymous questionnaires separately from postcards containing identifying information. A follow-up letter was mailed to each participant. Next, trained graduate students in education and psychology performed an additional follow-up with a minimum of three telephone calls to each participant, resulting in an overall return rate of 60%.


Preliminary Analyses

Because of the unequal numbers of students in the different racial and ethnic groups, statistical tests for homogeneity of variance were conducted. Levine tests indicated heterogeneity of variance only for Factor 7 (Faculty Racism). However, it is generally believed that differences in group variances are not large enough to significantly distort ANOVA results when the ratio of maximum variance to minimum variance is less than 4.0 (Howell, 1992). The ratio for Factor 7 was 2.62, suggesting that the heterogeneity of variance was not large enough to compromise the validity of the ANOVA results.

Main Analyses

One-way ANOVAs were employed to examine racial and ethnic group differences on each factor. Significant differences between groups were determined using Tukey's HSD tests. Given the number of comparisons conducted, an alpha level of .005 (.05/11 factors) was used to control for family-wise error.

The following results were significant at the .005 level (see Table 1). Significant differences emerged between racial/ethnic groups on Factors 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11. For descriptive purposes, results related to general racial and ethnic climate concerns and overall satisfaction with the university will be presented first. Personal

Student Perceptions



experiences of campus racism will be presented next. Finally, results related to individual comfort level with racially/ethnically similar and dissimilar persons on campus will be presented third.

Perceptions of general racial and ethnic climate. African-American students perceived and experienced significantly more racial conflict on campus and racial/ethnic separation than Asian-American and White students (Factor 1, F(3, 565) _ 8.46, p < .0001). African-American, Asian-American, and Latino students perceived significantly more interracial tension in the residence halls than White students (Factor 5, F(3, 568) = 16.64, p < .0001). Alternatively, White students reported significantly greater faculty and student respect for different racial and ethnic groups than African ­American and Asian-American students (Factor 8, F(3, 569) = 10.99, p < .0001). Finally, White students experienced significantly greater overall satisfaction with the university compared to African-American and Asian-American students (Factor 11, F(3, 570) = 6.11, p < .0004).

Personal experiences of campus racism. African-American, Asian-American, and Latino students were significantly more likely than their White counterparts to experience pressure to conform to racial and ethnic stereotypes regarding their academic performance and behavior, as well as minimize overt racial/ethnic group characteristics (e.g., language and dress) in order to fit in (Factor 4, F(3, 557) = 39.09, p < .0001). Asian-American and African-American students experienced this pressure to a significantly greater degree than Latino students. African-American and Asian­American students reported a significantly greater degree of faculty racism compared to White students; with African-American students reporting significantly more faculty racism than Latino students (Factor 7, F(3, 571) = 9.16, p < .0001). White students similarly reported significantly fairer treatment by faculty, teaching assistants, and students compared to African-American and Asian-American students (Factor 6, F(3, 571) = 6.21, p < .0004).

Student Perceptions



Racial/ethnic comfort. African-American and Latino students expressed a greater degree of comfort with faculty and students who were racially and ethnically similar, as well as different, compared to White students (Factor 2, F(3, 566) = 4.37, p < .005).


Results indicated that significant racial and ethnic group differences exist with regard to perceptions and experiences of the campus cultural climate. AfricanAmericans consistently reported more negative experiences compared to AsianAmerican, Latino, and White students. Specifically, African-American students experienced greater racial/ethnic hostility; greater pressure to conform to stereotypes; less equitable treatment by faculty, staff, and teaching assistants; and more faculty racism than their Asian-American, Latino, and White counterparts. This is consistent with previous research, indicating that African-American undergraduates perceive and experience significantly more racism on campus than their non African-American counterparts (Cabrera & Nora, 1994; Hurtado, 1992; LaSure, 1993; Sedlacek, 1987). The present study highlighted the particular dimensions of these students' experiences.

Asian-American and Latino students also reported experiences of stereotyping and prejudice in the form of limited respect and unfair treatment by faculty, teaching assistants, and students; interracial tension in residence halls; and pressure to conform to stereotypes. However, compared to other non-White racial/ethnic groups on campus, Latinos experienced the least racism and experienced a campus climate relatively free of racial and ethnic conflict. Several factors may account for these findings. First, at the university from which the sample was drawn, Latihos comprised approximately 6% of the undergraduate student body, compared to 14% for AfricanAmerican students and 12% for Asian-American students. The limited number of Latino students on this campus may prevent them from being perceived as a threat or

Student Perceptions



competitors for resources, and thus less subject to discriminatory behavior. Different results may be found on campuses with a larger Latino enrollment and with more overt anti-immigrant or anti-ethnic minority sentiment. Results may also reflect the fact that Latinos are considered an ethnic group rather than a racial group. The lack of ostensible, physical, racial characteristics may render many Latinos less subject to discrimination than other minorities, such as Asian-American and African-American students (see Helms, 1995). Alternatively, given the need to negotiate the rules of conduct of Anglo-American culture in U.S. colleges and universities, including use of the English language, Latinos who attend and persist in college may be more acculturated than their peers who do not attend college (Baron & Constantine, 1997). As such, they may report a greater level of adjustment in college and university settings than their non-acculturated peers. This is consistent with previous meta­analytic research demonstrating that Latino student's familiarity and comfort with Anglo culture is positively related to less stress experienced in predominantly Anglo universities (Quintana, Vogel, & Ybarra, 1991).

It is also interesting to note that of all groups, Latinos reported the most comfort with their own cultural background as well as with individuals who are culturally different. These student's acceptance of self and others may serve to buffer the negative effects of discrimination. In fact, positive attitudes toward culturally different others and a secure ethnic identity seem to be associated with lower levels of stress on campus among Latino students (Quintana et al., 1991).

White students consistently reported less racial tension, few expectations to conform to stereotypic behavior, an experience of being treated fairly, a climate characterized by respect for diversity, and the most overall satisfaction. Despite reports of interracial tension and discrimination on campus by students of color who comprise approximately one-third of the study body, White students seem relatively immune from such a hostile climate. This reality was most obvious in examining

Student Perceptions



differences on Factor 5 (Residence Hall Tension). All groups, with the exception of White students, reported interracial tension in residence halls. White students not only experienced limited discrimination, they also seemed to lack a recognition that interracial tensions and conflict exist for a significant portion of the student body. This last finding is consistent with previous studies which demonstrate significant discrepancies between White and minority students perceptions of interracial tension and university support for students of color (Cabrera & Nora, 1994; Loo & Rolison, 1986; McClelland & Auster, 1990).

Counseling Implications

Counselor awareness of students' particular perceptions and unique experiences is primary to providing counseling services which meet the needs of a diverse student body (Bishop, 1990; Stone & Archer, 1990). An understanding of student's unique experiences provides the basis for ethical and accurate assessment procedures (APA, 1993; Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992). The results of this study suggest that assessment of race- and ethnicity- related perceptions of the campus climate may prove to be an important component of facilitating the college adjustment of students of color. For example, counselors may want to routinely assess for the degree to which African-American student's academic adjustment and psychosocial functioning is impacted by expectations to conform to racial and ethnic stereotypes. Similarly, the relationship between experiences of residence hall tension and one's academic and social adjustment may be a critical area of assessment for Latino, African-American, and Asian-American students.

An understanding of the particular experiences of African-American, AsianAmerican, Latino, and White college students may also influence the development of accurate and effective interventions. Counseling strategies which both increase student's ability to effectively respond to racial and ethnic stereotyping, as well as maintain or increase one's academic self-efficacy to buffer the impact of denigrating

Student Perceptions



expectations and discouraging feedback, may be indicated. Similarly, counselors may facilitate African-American and Asian-American student's exploration and pursuit of alternative sources of assistance and support as they report a greater degree of faculty racism compared to their peers. Educational approaches which encourage students to pursue appropriate venues for reporting racist experiences and seeking redress may also be indicated.

Programming Implications

The results suggest a need for university programming which focuses on creating an accepting and comfortable campus climate where biases are challenged and differences are understood and appreciated. White students' lack of awareness or denial regarding racial and ethnic intolerance may result in their tendency to discredit reports of bias and discrimination by students of color. Moreover, their lack of awareness may result in resentments toward students of color for perceived "rewards." Such misunderstandings and misperceptions serve to foster interracial and interethnic conflict.

Campus programming to increase White students' awareness of both subtle and overt manifestations of bias could include providing information about the socio­cultural history and background of diverse groups on campus. Incorporating such information into orientation programs can promote cultural awareness and sensitivity at the onset of students' university careers. This may reduce stereotyping which results from a limited understanding of others, as well as minimize pressures placed on students of color to conform to expectations or "hide" their differences. Programming efforts which facilitate contact between students of diverse backgrounds, such as cooperative learning activities, may also be employed to increase White student's comfort level with racially/ethnically diverse faculty and students and promote positive university environments (Brewer & Miller, 1984; Pate, 1988).

Student Perceptions



Counselor educators' unique training in preventative approaches to healthy development is relevant to promoting student's sense of connection with the university. Actively supportive, nondiscriminatory campus environments are associated with greater satisfaction in college, better adjustment, and persistence through graduation. This is particularly the case for students of color (MacKay & Kuh, 1994; Kuh, Schuh, Whiff, & Associates, 1991; Nettles, Thoeny, & Gorman, 1986). Programming efforts must thus target potential areas of stress for students of color. One such area includes faculty racism. The significance of positive and supportive relationships between faculty, administrators, and students to the academic achievement of students of color has been demonstrated (Watson & Kuh, 1996). Outreach efforts which increase faculty and staff awareness of both subtle and more overt manifestations of prejudice and race-based discrimination is necessary to increasing student's comfort level both in and out of the classroom. Faculty orientation programs may include workshops on instructional equity. Assessment of equitable educational approaches may be incorporated into annual teaching evaluations. In addition, coordinating mentor programs which match new students with ethnically and racially similar faculty, staff, and students may provide students with needed academic and social support (Thile & Matt, 1995).

Programming efforts ultimately must send a message to students that exposure to differences is enriching, leads to flexibility in thought and action, and results in personal and professional advantages in an increasingly interdependent and diverse world.


Several limitations of this study exist. The study was conducted on one university campus and the results may not be generalizable to demographically different campuses, such as those with a larger Latino student body or one which is more racially and ethnically homogeneous. However, the fact that results were

Student Perceptions



obtained from students attending a single institution, as opposed to multiple institutions, strengthens the internal validity of the study.

In addition, it must be recognized that existing differences within racial and ethnic groups may impact perceptions and experiences of campus cultural climate. Such individual differences include level of racial and/or ethnic identity, level of acculturation, and socio-economic status (Helms, 1994; Padilla, 1980; Phinney, 1990). Relatedly, gender differences may influence results. For example, women of color who experience both racism and sexism, often report exposure to multiple forms of oppression which differ from those experienced by their male peers (Carter, Pearson, & Shavlik, 1987; Comas-Diaz & Greene, 1994; Fleming, 1983). Moreover, gender differences may vary within each racial/ethnic group. Future investigations may explore the relationship between these individual differences and students' perceptions and experiences of the campus cultural climate.

Despite the above limitations, the results enrich our understanding of students' experiences of the multiple dimensions of the campus racial and ethnic climate. Tailoring campus services and programs to meet the unique needs of a diverse student body is clearly indicated.

Student Perceptions





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Student Perceptions



Table 1: Racial and Ethnic Group Differences


Af.-Am. (n=136)

As. - Am. (n=130)

Latino (n=77)

White (n=235)

Significant Differences











1. Racial Tension










2. Cross-Cultural Comfort










3. Diversity Awareness










4. Racial Pressures









AF, A, L>W; AF, A>L

5. Residence Hall Tension









AF, A, L>W

6. Fair Treatment










7. Faculty Racism










8. Respect for Other Cultures










9. Lack of Support










10. Comfort with Own Culture










11. Overall Satisfaction











Note: AF -African-American; A= Asian, L = Latino, W = White. *p< 005