Our research, conducted with 30 Black students at a predominantly White institution, used mixed qualitative methods to investigate Black students' sense-making of experiences that signalled their non-belonging. All participants experienced both overt and covert racism including the n-word, racist humour, and negative stereotyping; and this occurred in public and intimate spaces. Our reflexive thematic analysis centred on interactional dynamics that can explain how racism on campus is rendered acceptable; and how and why this is consequential for how Black students can act. We found that White students' practices of “acceptable” racism entailed the denial of responsibility and the privileging of White experiences to deflect responsibility. Importantly, these devices signal that the use of racist discourses does not always arise from unconscious bias or naivety. The perceived power dynamics whereby White students decide who belongs and what is acceptable contributed to Black students' inability to act on their own terms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-55
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Community & Applied Social Psychology
Issue number1
Early online date28 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The analyses offered here are part of wider PhD research which is funded by the University of Bath Widening Participation Fund. We would like to thank the students who gave their time to participate in this study and Dr Ceri Brown for the comments on the initial findings of this study.


  • Black students
  • microaggressions
  • racism
  • social identities
  • university

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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