Public Release: 

Racial biases exist in schools, students believe

University of Toronto

Visible minority students, especially blacks, are more likely than white students to perceive racial biases in their high schools, says a University of Toronto researcher.

"When students perceive that this important institution - which has a huge impact on their lives - is fundamentally against them, there is a problem," says Scot Wortley, a criminology professor and author of the study. "We have to find out why these perceptions exist and how to change them."

Wortley and co-author Martin Ruck, a professor from the Graduate Centre at the City University of New York, analysed data from a survey that examined high school student perceptions of school disciplinary practices and climate. More than 1,800 Grade 10 and 12 students from 19 Toronto high schools were surveyed.

The researchers found that slightly more than one-third of black students surveyed (compared to 16 per cent of South Asians and six per cent of white students) believe teachers treat them worse than students from other racial groups. More than half of the black students surveyed (compared to 22 per cent of South Asians and nine per cent of Asians) believe they are more likely to be suspended from school than other groups.

"These perceptions, regardless of how and why they developed, are very important and are a real problem with respect to the educational system," says Wortley. "When students believe they are unfairly treated in school, it may lead to a more negative attitude towards education, the pursuit of conventional occupations and Canadian society in general."

The study, Racial and Ethnic Minority Students' Perceptions of School Disciplinary Practices: A Look At Some Canadian Findings, is published in the June issue of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

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CONTACT: Professor Scot Wortley, Centre of Criminology, 416-978-6438 x 228, scot.wortley@utoronto.ca or Sue Toye, U of T public affairs, 416-978-4289, sue.toye@utoronto.ca

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