The Influence of Racial Bias Incidents at Wheaton College

Authored by Catherine Le ‘24 | Co-researchers: Emma Flesher ‘22, Mackenzie Hubbard ‘22, Mosi Bullers-Shah ‘24, Ashanti Ferris ‘22

As a part of Professor Torres’ “Imagine a Just World Through Action” course, we conducted research examining the impact of Wheaton College’s response to racial bias incidents on campus. We analyzed primary and secondary sources regarding bias incidents at Wheaton and other schools, and we found that many issues facing marginalized groups are echoed across institutions. From poor handling of incidents on campus to ignoring the needs of marginalized groups, many institutions act with little regard for those who need help the most.


We surveyed students and alumni asking them to answer questions about themselves as well as rank various criteria. If they reported participating in campus activism (58.1% did), we asked them to rate and describe their experiences. Results are as follows:

Nine mentions of positivity in the student body. Respondents wrote that students are:

  • “very vocal and quick to organize”
  • “very willing to support each other and spread awareness”
  • “welcoming and loving”

Seven mentions of institution’s lack of support or resistance:

  • “Administration is often very unreceptive”
  • “negative with working with the administration to take any steps”
  • “Ultimately, the responsibility should lie on the institution for their failure to support students”
  • “members of administration are hesitant to actually implement the change that we push for”
  • “faculty/staff involved in it have been resistant in some ways to listening to student voices about DEIB on campus”
  • “dire need for change by admin, they do not seem to respond or interact with the student body to come to a conclusion on dealing with bias incidents”

Two mentions of performative and uninformed activism:

  • “It’s all felt a bit too performative… the impact of any events have been very little and often lack an element of education and follow up”
  • “the portions that were lacking were execution and interdisciplinary practices… plans never felt as though we were making institutional and cultural shifts at Wheaton”

We conducted interviews with respondents to expand upon survey data. Common themes were:

Frustration with Wheaton’s lack of action.

  • “I personally lost trust in the administration, when I first came to Wheaton I didn’t have a ton of experience with interacting with the administration. The more I interact with them, the less I come to believe that they will actually do the right thing instead of whatever is easiest”
  • “It always feels so tiresome, like a ‘here we go again’ moment, so that response is what leads to feeling tired, because it’s like we’ve been here already”
  • “I want immediate change, like immediately and so I am very frustrated with the responses from Wheaton in general.”
  • “As of right now the way that they respond is that they send out an email saying that a bias incident has happened and that they’re looking into it and whatnot. And then in the email they kind of just list resources that are available, which is like the Counseling Center and the 24-hour hotline. They’re a lot of talk and not a lot of action, which is really really frustrating”
  • “They don’t really do any sort of like outreach on their behalf to check up on the students who are personally targeted by the bias incidents, or even like, do any sort of community response”

Underutilization of bias reporting.

  • “Most people don’t report their bias incident because when things do get reported it tends to cause an uproar… most people don’t report bias incidents because they either don’t know that they can report something, or they don’t think that what happened to them counts as a bias incident, or it’s not a big enough of a deal. I just think that people don’t think that it’s going to do anything so they just don’t bother.”
  • “I see no reason to file a bias report unless you like fanfare and drama.”
  • “More transparency and more consistent responses could be useful to encourage students to feel like: if I do report, something will happen.”

Smaller offices and students doing most of the action.

  • “[involvement] varies very much depending on who we’re talking about.”
  • “You actually do need somebody spearheading a project like that, because quite honestly, everyone is like in their own bubble and that’s really strong at Wheaton.”
    • “One person is not a solution to a systemic issue, that issue goes above Wheaton, it’s how institutions were formed without certain people at the table; those institutions are never going to serve those communities”
  • “If the role is actually given merit and its due time at the admin table and meeting with alumni and big donors, then that means the school is giving the position merit” {in reference to Dean Shaya Gregory Poku’s role as Associate Vice President for Institutional Equity and Belonging.)
    • “The money is what makes the school make decisions”
    • “[The Marshall Center’s Intergroup Dialogues] are an extremely safe space just to speak, so I really appreciate that that support system is there especially for students of color”

Suggestions that Wheaton…

  • takes more actionable steps.
  • “Wheaton needs to make a lot more steps of being proactive and being as anti racist as possible and inclusive as possible instead of just sending out their emails.”
  • “a stronger path towards actual repercussions toward those involved (in racial bias incidents). It’s difficult because of privacy concerns and things like that but habitually the school does nothing visible and if they were to start taking steps to make a few visible changes that would be helpful”
  • “there’s so many steps that they can take, but they just never really ask for the feedback on how to do it… I feel like I’m doing a lot of the work for them when it should be their job”
  • genuinely holds programs and partners with student groups.
  • “It’s difficult also because like, I don’t want to put all of the emotional labor on the students, but also, the administration needs to get more involved in what the students are doing extracurricularly to prove that they genuinely care”
  • “I think there are so many students that want to improve the campus community that are willing to work with the members of admin. And they say that they involve students but there’s a lot more that they can do”

Since we surveyed and interviewed Wheaton students and alumni who volunteered to participate and used convenience sampling, our sample may not be representative of the population, and subsequently, results may not be representative or generalizable.