Racial and Cultural Problems at College
Minorities, immigrants, and foreign nationals face exceptionally tough challenges at college. They frequently face cultural and racial differences that can interfere with their personal, social, and academic growth. In some cases, the family identity conflicts with the emerging new identity of the young adult away from home. In other cases, family expectations based on the culture of their country of origin cause the student to feel guilt and shame during this time of self-exploration and growth. These students are especially vulnerable to the emotional tug-of-war between new opportunities and family expectations. And most important, they very often feel tremendous pressure to fulfill the expectations of parents who have struggled very hard to reach this country, provide a safe and secure home for their families, achieve a level of economic success sufficient to send their kids to good schools (often as the first in their families to attend college), and now assume their hopes and dreams will be fulfilled by this new generation of more educated, accomplished, high-achieving candidates for professional careers.
Minority and immigrant students face the typical identity issues facing all college students: Who am I? Where do I fit in? But for these students, the issues are compounded. Their identity as a minority or immigrant on campus can add tremendous strain to their daily lives, especially on predominantly white campuses.
For various sociological reasons, immigrants and minorities are often looked down on in the United States. Some groups (specifically black and Hispanic) have not had equal access to higher education in years past. They have integrated so-called white colleges in any significant numbers only in the past twenty-five years, and this backdrop of not being a traditional part of these institutions is still very dominant.
Irving Allen, a psychiatrist to the Health Services at Harvard University, says, "Unfortunately, college campuses are microcosms of the larger society and cannot reliably offer these students supportive safe havens from the profoundly ambivalent stance of this society toward them."
When you consider the affirmative action cases and the passionate debate around those issues, it is still apparent that there are negative feelings about minorities and immigrants on campus, especially at top-tier schools. Here, minority and immigrant students don't often face blatant discrimination or prejudice, but they know that they are suspect in the minds of the white student population. They know their admission is perceived as being tainted by the belief that they do not have to meet the same qualifications as white students. They know many of their peers think they have gotten special advantages and don't deserve to be in their classes. And there are further charges that minority students are the cause of grade inflation by professors afraid to fail students of color and risk the charge of racism. These erroneous assertions put a burden on these students to prove they belong, while at the same time eroding their self-esteem.
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