Study shows graduates are less racially accepting than first-year students
Published: Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 16, 2012 22:04
Miami University draws students from all backgrounds, piecing together a culturally colorful student body mosaic, but a new study done by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago may indicate the university environment does not foster as much interracial understanding as previously thought.
The study found more students reported the importance of interracial understanding to them personally decreased throughout their first year. The study showed 30.5 percent of college students said promoting interracial understanding was less important, while only 17.3 percent responded it was more important.
From the beginning of their first year to their senior year, 33.8 percent of students reported a decrease in their prioritization of racial understanding while only 21.4 percent reported an increase.
Jesse Rude is a research analyst at the NORC and one of the principal authors of the study.
“A majority of students surveyed did not change their opinion from the first to third time point,” Rude said. “Most people stayed the same. Of the people who did change, there were more who went negative than positive.”
Rude said the study looked specifically at 17 colleges and universities across the country that had data on racial attitudes for three points in time: the beginning of first year, the end of first year and the end of senior year.
The authors of the study indicated in their paper the results came contrary to the belief universities are liberal environments that encourage openness to diversity. There were various conjectures on the reasons why the study might have challenged this perception of universities, according to Rude.
“Maybe students coming into the university have more optimistic, idealistic opinions and the realities that they experience temper their optimism somehow,” Rude said. “I don’t know if that’s the case though and that’s very hard to examine.”
Rude said there are three or four experiences that appear to have an effect on how students report their racial attitudes over time.
“For example, the number of courses taken on diversity is highly predictive of a positive increase in how students reported racial attitudes,” Rude said.
Yvania Garcia is the assistant coordinator and director of Diverse Student Development at the Office of Diversity Affairs. She said the study had some truth to it.
“When students come to college, they’re very passionate about diversity and change,” Garcia said. “Especially for multicultural students, these issues are just a part of their lives. For those students, I can see within their years at college, they either become really passionate or they become a little apathetic toward the whole issue because they want different experiences not just dependent on their [racial identity].”
The Office of Diversity Affairs, through diversity programming and the Diversity Affairs Council, hopes to reach out to all students, Garcia said.
First-year Ann Ansah, who identifies herself as African, said she thinks Miami has a long way to go in achieving sensitivity to diversity.
“There is a big gap between the percentage of Caucasian students at Miami and those of other races or ethnicities,” Ansah said. “That’s what is helping to create racial tension and racial stereotypes.”
Ansah said she thinks Miami does a good job of hosting diversity events but she would like to see more of them, especially early in the year, in order to motivate students to learn about people of other cultures.
“Students would be more inclined to reach out to students who are from different backgrounds,” Ansah said. “There’s not just one kind of people here.”