Reasoning Through Race: College Students of Color and the Dynamics of Racial Authority

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As racial tensions continue on college campuses across the nation, more attention is needed to understanding the ways in which students of color gain a level of authority in speaking on racial issues. Based on interviews with 31 undergraduate students of color from 2 public research universities on the U.S. West Coast, this study asked participants to reason through the concept of race. Using a constructivist grounded theory methodology along with a lens of self-authorship, the findings suggest participants’ reasoning is influenced by different types of racial authority, or who or what is used to support confidence in claims made regarding what race is and how race matters. The findings inform a model of racial authority, which exists across 2 dimensions (holders and sources of authority) that lead to different outcomes. If students of color do not develop their own level of authority on racial issues, they might defer to so-called experts when reasoning through racial realities.

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