Using critical race theory to center BIPOC students' experiences in undergraduate psychology courses with a multicultural focus taught by white faculty

December 2023
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Colleges and universities have increasingly incorporated multicultural courses into general education requirements for undergraduate students. Simultaneously, higher education has become more racially diverse in recent years, with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) comprising nearly half of student body populations (Espinosa et al., 2019). Despite these trends, multicultural courses can recapitulate oppressive societal patterns and neglect the needs of BIPOC students (Pieterse et al., 2016; Seward & Guiffrida, 2012). In addition, researchers have documented how issues such as colorblind attitudes (Bell, 2002), ineptitude for managing difficult racial dialogues (Wing Sue et al., 2009), and problematic pedagogies (Applebaum, 2016) among white faculty members enact harm against BIPOC students. While prior research has begun to elucidate some of the issues implicated in graduate education multicultural courses, the experiences of BIPOC undergraduate students in multicultural psychology courses taught by white faculty members has been understudied. To fill this void, I sought to understand this topic through a critical race theory (CRT) lens supplemented with additional critical theories (intersectionality, critical white studies, and critical pedagogy) by qualitatively examining BIPOC undergraduate students’ experiences in psychology courses containing multicultural content that were taught by white faculty members. Semi-structured interviews with nine participants were analyzed using narrative inquiry methodology to center the experiential knowledge of BIPOC undergraduate students. Analyses from these interviews yielded six core narratives and 20 subthemes shared across participants. The core narratives included: experiences with the climates of their classes; enactments of harm and oppression; oppressive pedagogy; the impact of harm and oppression; positive learning experiences; and future directions for improving multicultural teaching. Implications for theory, teaching, and future research are discussed.

Education, Educational Psychology