The (Mis)Uses of Race in Research on College Students: A Systematic Review

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Marc P. Johnston-Guerrero


Race has been one of the most controversial subjects studied by scholars across a wide range of disciplines as they debate whether races actually exist and whether race matters in determining life, social, and educational outcomes. Missing from the literature are investigations into various ways race gets applied in research, especially in higher education and student affairs. This review explores how scholars use race in their framing, operationalizing, and interpreting of research on college students. Through a systematic content analysis of three higher education journals over five years, this review elucidates scholars’ varied racial applications as well as potential implicit and explicit messages about race being sent by those applications and inconsistencies within articles. By better understanding how race is used in higher education and student affairs research, scholars can be more purposeful in their applications to reduce problematic messages about the essentialist nature of race and deficit framing of certain racial groups.

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