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"Race, identity, exclusion and belonging in higher education: Personal narratives and classroom discourse"

Final Report Summary - RIEBHE (Race, identity, exclusion and belonging in higher education: Personal narratives and classroom discourse)

The project seeks to understand how ‘race’ and ‘racialization’ are constituted in classroom talk (discourse) and personal stories (narratives) in the Norwegian university. This involves understanding how membership categories related to race – including ethnicity, nationality, and religion – are produced and taken up in lectures and seminars. Furthermore, we explore the implications of race and racialization discourse on experiences of inclusion, exclusion, identity and belonging through the personal narratives of members of the academic community: students, administrative staff, and academic staff. The study will generate a ‘conversation’ between the university classroom race and racialization discourse and the personal narratives of racialized academic community members, in order to explore the workings of ideology, agency and resistance.

Since February 2013, we have collected and analyzed classroom discourse data from four undergraduate-level university courses at two universities in Norway. Forty percent of classroom time for each course has been audio recorded and transcribed. The researcher’s analysis demonstrates that in classroom interactions, nationality, religion and culture are used as a cover to discuss “race.” In addition, whiteness is centered as a taken-for-granted norm against which “Others” are discussed as special cases. We see that nationality is racialized such that Norwegianness is made equivalent to whiteness, non-whiteness is equated with non-Norwegianness, and these categories are connected to biological concepts of race.

For the study exploring personal narratives, we interviewed 15 students, administrative staff and academic staff across the same two universities. All of the interview participants are racialized people in the Norwegian context; that is, they would not be considered white ‘ethnic Norwegians’ by white Norwegians. In the interviews, participants relate moments in their lives, particularly at the university, where they felt “different” because of their skin color, facial features, or ethnicity. Thematic analysis of the interviews show that participants easily remember microaggressions, where their belongingness in Norwegian space is contested. Even those who are Norwegian or have lived in Norway all their lives report being stereotyped based on their perceived national origin and having their Norwegian language abilities questioned. Some staff experience subtle exclusion at their university workplace. Interviewees describe the need to prove themselves and be better than white Norwegian colleagues and classmates to be perceived as competent. We plan to turn to a narrative methodological approach to understand how these stories of inclusion and (mostly) exclusion are structured.

This project addresses a gap in the literature by investigating discourse about race and racialization in (1) Norway as a late-comer to ‘multiculturalism’ in Europe, and (2) in higher education, where young adults develop further the democratic capacities that they will carry with them into their future actions as citizens and workers. With the current migrant ‘crisis’ in Europe occurring concomitantly with a rise in right-wing political parties and anti-immigrant public sentiment in many European countries, this project is timely. It contributes to an understanding of how the racialized ‘Other’ is constructed through discourse within a societal institution that is tasked with being a beacon of knowledge and enlightened civil discourse: the university.