Some students seeking careers find racial discrimination affects employment

Michael Lopick

Alena Burroughs, adult services librarian at the Kent Free Library and 2010 Kent State graduate, said she experienced discriminatory attitudes when applying for her first job out of college.

“When I sat down to begin my interview, the man interviewing me looked me over with a sense of uncertainty,” she said. “He then told me how surprised he was that I would be interested in a place that required me to interact heavily with white patrons, clearly making note of the fact that I would be a square peg in a round hole.”

After her interview, Burroughs felt confused and upset by her interviewer’s comments.

“I never would have guessed I’d be in a position like that,” she said. “It was one of the most awkward and infuriating moments of my life.”

Although programs such as Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action are in place to counteract discrimination in the workplace, race still affects graduates, like those from Kent State, when they begin their careers.  

To prevent this discrimination, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs requires all businesses licensed to sell goods or services grossing more than $10,000 per year to include the Equal Employment Opportunity tagline in advertising, which certifies that a business abides by government guidelines.  

Businesses and universities like Kent State fall into this category and have to file a yearly report about employment.

Sophomore fashion merchandising major Bryanna Watkins believes being African-American could make her job search more complicated when she graduates but remains confident she’ll be able to start her career.

“I have thought about it before because people do mention it may be different, but I think times are changing,” Watkins said. “By the time I actually graduate, people might be more open.”

However, an experiment conducted by ABC News in 2012 put 20 of the “blackest” and “whitest” names from D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s book “Freakonomics” at the top of identical resumes and sent them out electronically to various companies.

ABC tracked which resumes were opened and how frequently. Those with “white-sounding names” were downloaded 17 percent more often.

Racial discrimination in employment also affects the wages of African-American workers, who earn 25 percent less than their equally-qualified white counterparts.

A study conducted at Wilfrid Laurier University in 2011 showed that a significant wage gap exists between blacks and whites across all education levels and career aspirations. The study concluded the main reason for this gap was an uneven distribution of whites and blacks in the workforce as a result of discrimination.

Marissa Jordon, a recruitment specialist at Select Family in Cuyahoga Falls, said her company takes equality seriously and tries to provide a fair opportunity for all recruits.

“We are committed to only placing candidates with an equal-opportunity employer and would never do business with a company or agency that only wanted applicants of a specific race,” she said.  

African-American students had mixed feelings but generally looked to growing diversity and acceptance as a positive sign for their futures.

Junior managerial marketing major, Olum Iknueobe, said employers look more at skill than skin color.

“I don’t think it really matters nowadays,” he said. “The world’s becoming more diverse, so companies are going to have to start hiring more minorities sooner or later.”

Other students had never thought about how the color of their skin could affect their job prospects after college, such as sophomore business management major, Halle Bryd.

“I never thought about the issue, it never really occurred to me,” she said. “I would hate that it was an issue, but I think times are different and that it won’t affect my future.”

Contact Michael Lopick at [email protected].