Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Balkanized student bodies 

The authors of The Diversity Challenge followed 2,000 UCLA students for five years in order to see how diversity affects identities, attitudes, and group conflicts over time. They found that racial prejudice generally decreased with exposure to the ethnically diverse college environment. Students who were randomly assigned to roommates of a different ethnicity developed more favorable attitudes toward students of different backgrounds, and the same associations held for friendship and dating patterns. By contrast, students who interacted mainly with others of similar backgrounds were more likely to exhibit bias toward others and perceive discrimination against their group. Likewise, the authors found that involvement in ethnically segregated student organizations sharpened perceptions of discrimination and aggravated conflict between groups.
An interview from the Chronicle of Higher Education (temp link) expands on this point:
Our results in The Diversity Challenge show fairly convincingly that, while such organizations also have some positive benefit (in terms of increased attachment to the university as an institution), there are also clear negative results among both white and minority student groups. Although the negative effects of Greek-group membership seem a little more toxic among white students, the negative effects on intergroup attitudes of these group memberships seem fairly similar among both white and minority student groups. The mediating mechanism seems to be the same among both types of student groups. This is to say that relatively high ethnic identification leads students to join ethnically oriented groups, and once in the groups, ethnic identification increases further, leading in turn to an increased sense of ethnic victimization.

In terms of policy recommendations, it is very unlikely that university administrations will be able to ban ethnically oriented student organizations. Rather, I would recommend that university administrators do as little as possible to encourage the formation of such groups. For those ethnically oriented groups that continue to exist nonetheless, there should be affirmative effort expended to increase the level of interethnic contact for members of such organizations.
The authors follow UCLA students for about six years from their entry to university and find several other patterns:
My thanks to reader jw for the link.