Racism Affects Students’ Academic Performance at James Madison College, Study Shows

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W.E.B. DuBois Student Society, an organization for African American students at James Madison College (JMC), recently conducted a study revealing that 59 percent of African American students at the institution say they have encountered racial microaggressions on campus that have affected their academic performance.

Results from the “Racial Climate Study” come from anonymous student surveys, which included responses from students who say they’ve encountered racism on campus. The surveys revealed that many students are unsatisfied with classroom discussions on racially sensitive issues. Student respondents also said that racial dynamics between them and their professors often affected their ability to learn; many said they felt discouraged from participating in class discussions or were uncomfortable visiting a professor during office hours for additional help.

JMC administration responded to the study with a list of possible solutions, which included a call for more African American faculty members, increasing the inclusion of black authors, and adding courses around black social movements as part of the core curriculum.

The JCM student senate also responded to the survey by passing a resolution to address some of the issues it brought to light. Its solutions included training faculty, staff, and students on how to be sensitive toward racial topics, creating a diverse volunteer group of ambassadors, and also increasing inclusion of non-white authors as a regular part of the curriculum.

“[The proposal should be] regularized in order to explain systemic racism and foster Madison classrooms in which the subject of race is discussed in a culturally sensitive way to ensure an environment that is both intellectually challenging and emotionally safe,” the resolution stated.

The W.E.B. DuBois Student Society suggested more specific changes to be made at JCM. For instance, the group proposed that the university’s introductory course on the Harlem renaissance be taught by a minority professor rather than the current white professor.

In response, Melissa Fore, who currently teaches the class, voiced her concern.

“I can understand students wanting more black professors — but identity politics can be stifling at times,” she said. “Does James Madison need to hire more African American professors? Yes. Should that be a reason to question my position as a scholar of African American literature? No.”