A new study published in the Journal of Black Studies explores the impact of publicized killings of Black men and boys by police shared in social media and viewed by underrepresented college students in the U.S.
The study, titled: “The Only Thing New is the Cameras”: A Study of U.S. College Students’ Perceptions of Police Violence on Social Media, found that the majority of college students experienced emotional trauma watching the videos. They shared their fears about being pulled over by police.
“We used critical race theory to deeply unpack the issues plaguing our society, the problems surrounding implicit bias, racism and the structures that enforce negative stereotyping of Black men, boys, and women in general,” study author Dr. Pamela Valera, assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Publics Health, told us.
The first author, Felicia Campbell, at the time the study, was a Black female student who, like her peers, has been impacted by this issue.
“This was an opportunity to explore a social phenomenon that has had minimal traction until the highly publicized killing of Mr. Floyd, which was shared in social media,” Dr. Valera told us.
Critical race theory was embedded in the questions that were asked among the study participants. The results reflect on how social media has normalized police killings of Black men and follows a critical race theory that suggests that the role of race in the U.S. must be considered when examining the potentially harmful interactions between Black men and the police, Dr. Valera explained.
“The majority of the sample were Black/African American and Latinx,” Dr. Valera told us. “Within the sample, the majority of them reported being stopped by the police and experiencing a high level of anxiety during these encounters.”
Participants reported that police violence is an issue in their hometown and that family members have coached them on how to handle police encounters.
“This shows a clear relationship between race and being stopped by the police, and these trends are consistent even among college students,” Dr. Valera told us. “Not surprisingly, I think students of color are not immune concerning their police encounters, and we need to do more to ensure their safety.”
Dr. Valera says that institutions of higher education can no longer ignore these extreme events that affect many racial and ethnic minorities, especially students of color and their well-being.
“Colleges and universities need to create proactive solutions by investing in diversity and inclusion practices that build the capacity for equity and fairness,” Dr. Valera told us. “Furthermore, higher education should work toward promoting student and faculty diversity. This requires universities and colleges to have regular open discussions for Black students to discuss their collective trauma and incidents of police violence. Given the complexity of these issues, Black scholars and university counsellors should lead these conversations rather than college administrators.”
Dr. Valera believes that by investing in diversity and inclusion goals, we can begin to develop safe spaces and guidance for discussing emotionally charged issues that are shared on social media and ought to be discussed in the classroom, especially since students are being affected by them directly.
“It is crucial to understand and acknowledge these world events so that students can begin to collectively communicate their fears, emotions, and traumas that may ultimately impact their academic experience,” Dr. Valera told us. “Including these discussions on police violence and integrating social media in an educational context is important to not only to enhancing student learning, but also to promote the overall well-being of Black students who are affected and for instructors to respond or prevent crisis that may arise beyond the classroom.”
Dr. Valera says we need to understand that our Black, Indigenous, Students of Color are not alright and administrators, faculty, and staff in higher education to step up and promote [through funding allocations] a culture of inclusion, diversity, equity, and fairness.
“We must make room for open and safe conversations about Black trauma,” Dr. Valera told us. “We need to execute antiracist initiatives, and provide the space for all Black, Indigenous, Students of Color to feel safe enough to discuss and share their experiences without being subjected to even more trauma and hate.”
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com