White Institutional Presence: The Impact of Whiteness on Campus Climate

Winter 2010

Source: Harvard Educational Review, 80(4) (Winter 2010): 464-490.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the author focuses on African American undergraduates to illuminate the consequences of situated White academic beliefs, procedures, and traditions on social and academic life at predominantly white institutions (PWIs).

The author argues that it is essential that predominately White institutions interested in addressing African American attrition due to chilly or hostile campus climates realize how marginalization and discrimination are the outcomes of White mainstream ideology (Whiteness) and White privilege. These sources of hostile or chilly campus climates are what the author names White institutional presence (WIP). WIP focuses on the White normative messages and practices that are exchanged within the academic milieu.

Conceptual Framework

The author proposes WIP as a framework that can enhance understanding of embedded ideologies of Whiteness and provide a meaningful guide for institutional reflection.
The manifestation of WIP can be categorized into four intricately linked attributes: White ascendancy, monoculturalism, White blindness, and White estrangement.

White Ascendancy
White ascendancy refers to thinking and behavior that arise from White mainstream authority and advantage, which in turn are generated from Whiteness's historical position of power and domination. The composition of White ascendancy includes a sense of superiority, a sense of entitlement, domination over racial discourse, and White victimization.
The author proposes that White ascendancy beliefs lead people to ignore people of color and their abilities. White ascendency creates a hostile environment for African Americans.

White monocultural paradigm endorses White structures of knowledge, which in turn embraces rationality and scientific evaluation standards and disallows different worldviews' epistemologies, ideas, and practices (Patton, McEwen, Rendón, & Howard-Hamilton, 2007). As a result of Eurocentric views of scholarship, alternative racial and ethnic perspectives are rarely found in required course readings.

White Blindness
White blindness is a racial ideology that obscures and protects White identity and White privilege. It is based on the principle of color blindness, which positions equality in an ideology wherein the race of a person is and ought to be immaterial to any decision-making process. White blindness is apparent in institutional curricular decisions, such as faculty deciding on classroom texts without a critical eye for deficit messages embedded in those texts.

White Estrangement
WIP is sustained and perpetuated through White estrangement, through the distancing of Whites physically and socially from people of color. Thus, White students may not instigate interaction (Tatum, 1997/2003), may self-segregate, and may not seek out cultural immersion experiences (Reason, Roosa Millar, & Scales, 2005).


Higher education leaders need to be prepared to work with culturally different students and help create learning environments that encourage respect and intercultural understanding (López, 2003). The author claims that by using the WIP framework, practitioners and administrators can bring to light subtle and blatant consequences of White ascendancy, monoculturalism, White blindness, and White estrangement. To address chilly climates in higher education, institutions must craft solutions that target these root causes.

López, G. R. (2003). The (racially neutral) politics of education: A critical race theory perspective. Educational Administration Quarterly, 39(1), 68-94.
Patton, L. D., McEwen, M., Rendón, L. L, & Howard-Hamilton, M. F. (2007). Critical race perspectives on theory in student affairs. New Directions for Student Services, 2007(120) , 39-53.
Reason, R. D., Roosa Millar, E. A, & Scales, T C. (2005). Toward a model of racial justice ally development, Journal of College Student Development, 46(b) , 530-546.
Tatum, B. (1997/2003). "Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?" "New York: Basic Books.

Updated: Apr. 04, 2012