In conjunction with the 50th anniversary of integration at The University of Alabama, a team of researchers is conducting a study about racial attitudes on campus, which was originally started at the Capstone in the 1960s.
Richard Fording, chair of the political science department and a member of the research team, said previous surveys have indicated a change in racial attitudes, and the current study is intended to capture any current racial tensions on campus.
“I think the period from the 1960-80s was a period of significant change in racial attitudes among young people especially. That was evident as the survey was replicated through the years,” Fording said. “I would assume there is some room to improve from the ’80s results and that we’ve become more racially tolerant, but I get the sense that there are still some racial tensions and issues, so it will be interesting to see what that looks like.”
Because of the historical precedence set by the survey, Debra McCallum, the director of the Institute for Social Science Research, said the team is conducting the survey in two parts.
“First we wanted to replicate what was done in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, which was a written classroom survey administered in a selection of courses,” McCallum said. “This way we would be able to make a direct comparison to the past. Second, we wanted to conduct an online survey, which of course, is more efficient and allows more people to participate. We will be able to compare the two samples and see if they are similar.”
Fording said the prevalence of minority students on campus provides an opportunity to analyze race relations from more than one or two perspectives.
“There’s definitely a campus objective to understand what the climate is on campus with respect to race relations,” Fording said. “We have so many minority students that we actually have the ability to see how things are interpreted from both sides.”
Fording said some of the questions in the survey specifically pertain to race relations on campus.
“There are a few questions that have to do with some issues on campus that we designed particularly for,” Fording said. “As I recall, there are some specific questions about greek life on campus.”
McCallum said the surveys originally started in the 1960s and hadn’t been conducted since the 1980s until Michael Hughes, a sociologist from Virginia Tech who was involved in the original surveys, approached Celia Lo, who was also previously involved, and McCallum.
“Over the past couple of years, Dr. Hughes contacted Dr. Lo and Dr. McCallum to ask if there would be some interest here in updating this line of research by conducting another student survey,” McCallum said. “A group of interested researchers began meeting last fall to discuss the project and we agreed that this year, with the 50th year commemoration activities, would be a wonderful time to collect new data and update our understanding of the issues related to race relations.”
Fording said the online survey will be distributed to all students and hopes the results help orient students and administration on addressing racial issues on campus.
“Hopefully all the students on the campus would like everyone to feel like they’re treated well and that we don’t want to have race be an issue that causes tension on campus,” Fording said. “So we need to hear from students and we need to know how they feel so we can move forward if there are some problems to address and remedy.”
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