Polling Society: African-Americans believe race relations are worsening

by Christina Bartson / Beacon Staff • February 20, 2014

Emerson College Polling Society’s most recent survey found that more than half a century after the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 61 percent of African-Americans feel race relations are worsening.

Members of the student polling organization created a 26-question survey to discover American sentiments about race in political and social arenas.

The group, established last fall, focuses on researching and analyzing the nation’s stances on controversial issues affecting its citizens, according to its website. 

In October, Roger House, an associate professor of American studies, contacted the student organization to conduct a poll to measure attitudes about race relations in America, said Spencer Kimball, scholar-in-residence and advisor to ECPS. 

House, who organized Emerson’s first Victory Stridea celebration of the civil rights movement which is currently ongoing, said he encouraged faculty, including Kimball, to participate in the commemoration in line with their expertise.

The poll was administered using an automated data collection system over the phone, and was conducted from Jan. 29 to 31 with 958 registered voters, according to an ECPS press release. It was a national poll, and the demographics were weighted based on the latest available data from the 2010 census, said Kimball.

According to Kimball, the poll’s results should alert Emerson students to be aware of race relations and how these factors mold individuals’ perceptions of the world. He said he wants to continue the study for the next 10 to 15 years to measure if the trend is getting better or worse. Kimball said he hopes to conduct an internal poll at Emerson, evaluating students’ feelings on race.

“It’s important for these surveys to be conducted,” said Kimball.

Polling Society president Siobhan Robinson said when racially-charged news stories break, like the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, they are often catalysts for Americans to question if things are getting better or worse.

“The numbers we’ve found, they’ve got people talking,” said Robinson, a senior political communication major.

House said the survey results are significant and highlight the work that still needs to be done to create inclusive and accepting communities, which he said he believes Emerson has improved on in the past two years.

“One poll is a snapshot in time,” said House. “A series of polls could measure the evolution of consciousness of race relations.”

At Emerson, only three percent of the student body identifies as black and only 20 percent identify as students of color, according to the school’s website.

Robinson said the survey should raise eyebrows.

“One thing about Emerson is we have the perception that we are such a liberal campus and we pride ourselves on being very accepting, especially to LBGT individuals,” said Robinson, “but race and economic differences are two areas that are really overlooked at this school.”

Donovan Birch, a senior political communication major and president of Emerson’s Black Organization with Natural Interests, said the poll’s results did not surprise him. As a person of color at Emerson, he said he feels a lack of awareness in the student body concerning race relations. 

“It’s important people hear about this so we can improve our understanding of people and their experiences,” said Birch.

Robinson said students often make racially charged jokes and don’t consider the repercussions, or say they have a certain number of black friends, but aren’t aware when they have attacked a peer’s identity.

“Just because we’re a small liberal arts college in the Northeast, problems of race relations are just as real here,” said Robinson. “Emerson students need to take more action to make cultural awareness a priority — this poll is the first step.”