Exploring white privilege among adult learners in the historically white college and university classroom
Logan, Linda Elaine
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The purpose of this study was to understand how adult learners experience white privilege in higher education classrooms. There were two research questions guiding this study: (1) how does the social position of adult learners affect their experience of white privilege in the classroom; and (2) what are the manifestations of white privilege in the classroom. This was a qualitative case study conducted during the spring 2002 semester at a historically White university. The cases consisted of two higher education classrooms. Twelve racially diverse adult learners and two instructors participated in the study. Data collection methods included semi-structured interviews, classroom observations, and document analysis. The study found that race, class, and gender affected how adult learners experienced white privilege in the classroom. First, White racialness privileged White adult learners and non-White racialness burdened adult learners of color in the classroom. Class was found to be empowering only to White adult learners who could claim higher social locations. When class intersected with race, White adult learners at the lower end of class claimed power from Whiteness. Adult learners of color from higher and lower social class locations drew on their class backgrounds to negotiate issues of race that operated in the classroom. A higher social class location was of no benefit in the classroom for non-White adult learners who could claim that status. The study found male gender and African American racialness of one of the instructors to be intimidating only among his White students in the study. Manifestations of white privilege included (1) assumptions of race that privileged Whiteness; (2) White domination of classroom discourse; (3) White domination of authorship of the subject content in the classroom; (4) White domination of instructional resources of the classroom; and (5) White domination of physical space of the classroom. The conclusions were: (1) white privilege is a major factor in the dynamics of higher education classrooms; (2) the historically White college and university acts to enable the operation of white privilege in its classrooms; and (3) adult learners of color are complicit with White adult learners in perpetuating white privilege in the classroom.