Individual, Family, and Community Education ETDs

Publication Date



Counselor educators commonly experience resistance from students when the classroom focus turns to issues, literature, projects, or discussions involving race. Recognizing this resistance as an obstacle to learning, scholars developed strategies to address it. These strategies, however, have been based largely on individualistic conceptions of student resistance that obscure its possible sociopolitical influences and overlook the potential for formulating strategies to address its sociopolitical underpinnings. To expand the view of student resistance as more than simply individual behavior and thereby assist in developing and improving tools to overcome it, this project interprets student resistance as a sociopolitical phenomenon by connecting it to a complex of general behaviors that reinforce the sociopolitical context of White racial hegemony. For this purpose, I define student resistance as an issue of emotion which I explicate with a cognitive appraisal emotional process model. To begin the project, I went into five regularly scheduled counselor education classrooms to screen a video presentation addressing two topics that frequently evoke resistance from students: White racial group advantage and oppression of racial minority groups. Thirty-seven masters level counseling students participated in the project by providing certain demographic information and describing their experiences of the video presentation on questionnaires and in classroom discussions. Applying my definition, I identified the following manifestations of resistance in the students' descriptions of their experiences: harm-related appraisals, beliefs rationalizing the appraisals, negative emotions, and defensive coping actions. Analyzing these manifestations of student resistance in light of critical whiteness studies and social dominance theory, I found that beliefs underlying students' harm-related appraisals and resulting coping actions connected most readily to behavior that reinforces White racial hegemony. The particular reinforcing beliefs students expressed gave credence to White superiority, nonwhite inferiority, and traditional American myths used to justify White racial dominance. Defensive coping actions consisted of: (1) avoiding race-related discussions; (2) attacking the person talking about racism and White privilege; (3) becoming resigned to racial injustice and doing nothing about it; and (4) escaping responsibility for racial injustice. A main conclusion of this project is that student resistance is problematic because it presents an obstacle to important learning, may function as a form of violence against students in the classroom who are members of subjugated groups, and represents behavior that precludes the development of therapeutic relationships with future clients. Strategies faculty can use to address student resistance that stem from findings in this project are discussed. They include: (1) provide theoretical frames of understanding; (2) identify sociopolitical influences on beliefs; (3) facilitate communication; (4) increase the desire for social justice; and (5) introduce the Hero's Journey. Ideas for future research that further describe and explain student resistance are suggested.


student resistance, counselor education, race-related education, social dominance theory, whiteness studies, ethnocentric monoculturalism, White supremacy, cognitive appraisal theory

Document Type




Degree Name

Counselor Education

Level of Degree


Department Name

Individual, Family, and Community Education

First Committee Member (Chair)

Olguin, David

Second Committee Member

Allen, Ricky Lee

Third Committee Member

Coffield, Lydia (Gene)

Fourth Committee Member

Peele-Eady, Tryphenia

Fifth Committee Member

Verney, Steven