Nolan Cabrera: HEOC Alumnus Studies Race on College Campuses

New book by University of Arizona professor of education examines racism and the myth of "post-racial" higher education from a White perspective.

Nolan Cabrera (’06, M.A., ’09, Ph.D., Higher Education and Organizational Change) is an associate professor in the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona, studying the racial dynamics on college campuses, with a particular focus on Whiteness. Cabrera was an expert witness in the Tucson Unified Mexican American Studies case (Arce v. Douglas), which is the highest-profile ethnic studies case in the country’s history, and was the only academic featured in the MTV documentary “White People.”

Cabrera’s new book, “White Guys on Campus: Racism, White Immunity, and the Myth of ‘Post-Racial’ Higher Education,” is a critical examination of race in higher education centered on Whiteness. In an effort to unveil the frequently unconscious habits of racism among White male undergraduates, the book details many of the contours of contemporary, systemic racism, while engaging the possibility of White students to participate in anti-racism. Ultimately, “White Guys on Campus” calls upon institutions of higher education to be sites of social transformation instead of reinforcing systemic racism, while creating a platform to engage and challenge the public discourse of “post- racialism.”

“…A lot of campus-based racism is derived from the unconscious habits that a lot of White students have developed and internalized, and they don’t even realize the harm that they’re causing to their peers,” says Cabrera in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education. “There was the Yale graduate student who called the cops on her Black peer — it’s one of those things where she is not consciously thinking, ‘Wow, I’m going to be racist right now.’ She’s thinking there’s a threat. So, then we have to ask, Well, structurally, why would someone see this Black person as out of place in this environment? And then you have to ask, individually, why would you see this as unusual? Why would you see this as potentially harmful to the point that you would even call the police?”

As a part of his research for “White Guys on Campus,” Cabrera interviewed White male students on the subject of race.

“I thought it would be difficult to get White men to talk with a Person of Color on the subject of race – or at least their answers would be a little tempered,” he says.  “Instead, I found these White guys were very open about discussing issues of race as long as it was with me behind closed doors and generally anonymous. In fact, they had many strong opinions about issues of race, but they did not feel that due to political correctness that they could publicly express these views.

“What was really interesting was that they could almost never point to an instance where they or one of their White friends was silenced due to political correctness. Instead, it was just a feeling they had. That was one of the most frustrating parts about the research was that so many of these White men lived in racial worlds divorced from reality. They would frequently feel oppressed by affirmative action programs that did not exist or imagined political correctness.”

Civil Rights movements, education, immigration, Latinx topics, multiculturalism, and leadership programs for high school students are amongst other topics that Cabrera frequently discusses in his essays, articles, and presentations.His publications have appeared in the leading education and higher education journals such as the American Educational Research Journal, Review of Higher Education, Journal of College Student Development, and Research in Higher Education. Cabrera’s work has been used extensively in education, policy, and legal environments.

Cabrera’s time at UCLA helped him develop into the leader and educator he is today.

“The faculty in HEOC were incredible examples of scholars doing socially-engaged work,” he says. “It was not simply enough for them to let the ‘numbers speak for themselves.’ The professors wanted empiricism [to] lead to important, tangible social change. However, the first step to doing that was engaging in rigorous and robust research so that you have a substance to the opinion/policy you are advancing. This was the mark of people like Sylvia Hurtado, Mitch Chang, Walter Allen, Pat McDonough, and [the late] Rob Rhoads. They were also supportive of students engaging in controversial and risky subject matter. I received a great deal of critical support in exploring the intersection of Whiteness and Higher Education, and their support led to the creation of this book.”

Cabrera earned his B.A. from Stanford University in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity with a focus on Education. He is a former director of the Boys & Girls Club in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a UA College of Education Erasmus Scholar, an Emerging Scholar for the American College Personnel Association, a Faculty Affiliate with UT Austin’s Project M.A.L.E.S., and a Faculty Fellow for the American Association for Hispanics in Higher Education. Cabrera is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, including the prestigious Spencer/National Academy of Education postdoctoral fellowship.

“White Guys on Campus”is available on Amazon.


Courtesy of Nolan Cabrera