Understanding the Role of Social Media in Perpetuating Racial Inequality in Higher Education

Can social media be leveraged to encourage White college students to confront racial discrimination?

While social media has become a primary means for making social connections on campus, it has also become a venue for racist comments, contributing to a negative racial climate and inequality in educational attainment. While much of the research in this area has centered on what Black students can to do protect themselves from a hostile racial climate, Hurd will study how changing White students’ behavior may change campus climate and reduce the occurrence of racial discrimination. The team will identify a social media platform that strongly contributes to campus racial climate at the University of Virginia; document the nature and frequency of racially discriminatory comments posted to this platform; and assess how these posts affect Black students’ perceptions of institutional climate, sense of belonging, and academic engagement and performance. Importantly, they will also identify factors that prompt White students to confront racist posts. The team will conduct separate focus groups with Black and White students to better understand the effects of exposure to discriminatory posts and the social norms around confronting discrimination. They will also monitor campus-relevant social media to examine the frequency, content of, and responses to race-related posts. The final phase will consist of a pilot intervention, which aims to convince White students of the legitimacy of virtual spaces as social spaces, communicate social norms to increase their sense of personal responsibility to confront prejudice, and build their self-efficacy through scripts for effective responses to discrimination.

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