Journal of Education & Social Policy

ISSN 2375-0782 (Print) 2375-0790 (Online) DOI: 10.30845/jesp

Looking Through the Lens of the Undergraduate: The Belief in a Just World and Its Effects on Perceptions of Racial Equality
Dr. Karen Walker

Lerner (1977, 1980) claimed individuals are motivated to believe the world is a “just place” where “people get what they deserve.” The Belief in a Just World, he argued, served as a “protective function” to its adherents, defending the individual psychologically against unsettling negative outcomes over which they have no control. Individuals are motivated to protect this belief set to avoid being complicit in injustices both at their root and in present day. This study attempts to measure the presence of the “Belief in a Just World” attitude set among undergraduates, and seeks to determine whether this worldview is correlated with beliefs in racial equality. First, the subjects completed the Belief in a Just World Scale (Rubin and Peplau, 1975); then, they answered 30 policy questions over a variety of topics well as racially charged policy questions sprinkled throughout. The variety was provided both to obscure the racially-charged questions and to examine whether the BJW attitude set drives other policy areas. The data revealed strong correlations between higher BJW scores and beliefs in racial equality—but no other clusters of questions—suggesting many undergraduates are developing a perceptual lens that identifies gains in racial equality that simply are not there. Those in higher education have to consider how to awaken undergraduates to the persistent scars of history and current uncomfortable truths.

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