Date Approved


Graduate Degree Type


Degree Name

Education (M.Ed.)

Degree Program

College of Education

First Advisor

Mary Bair

Second Advisor

Marlene Kowalski-Braun

Third Advisor

Karyn Rabourn

Academic Year



At predominately-white institutions (PWI), students commonly come from racially homogenous backgrounds and may have never had to think about their racial identity or racial issues. The purpose of this study was to examine white students’ understandings of the concept of privilege, the effectiveness of their education at this institution about privilege, and their comfort with racial dialogue. Without an understanding of privilege and oppression, and their complicity in this system, students cannot be expected to engage meaningfully in any discussion about racial injustice. Helms’ white racial identity development model, Watt’s privileged identity exploration model, and critical race theory were used as the theoretical frameworks to guide this study. Seven participants were included in the study. Criterion for participation included the following self-identifications, (1) white, (2) current undergraduate student, (3) been attending the institution for at least one year. Students were asked to complete a brief questionnaire and participate in a 60-minute semi-structured interview. Line-by-line analysis of the interview transcripts was conducted using open coding, followed by axial coding to identify themes. Three overarching themes emerged from the analysis of the data: (1) Understandings of privilege, (2) Coping Mechanisms, (3) Factors that influenced understandings. Findings provide insights about the racial experiences of white students, how their background played a role in their thought processes, and what factors have either helped or hindered their racial identity development.

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