New Study of Diversity on Campus

InsiderHigherEd.com has a pretty good review/preview of a new study on impact of diversity on student attitudes. The data at the core of this study comes from students at UCLA and focuses quite a bit on comparing those who lived with someone from ‘an outgroup’ versus someone from their ‘ingroup.’ (UCLA frosh are randomly assigned roommates).

From the review,

Some of the findings may cheer supporters of affirmative action. Notably, the research found a positive impact on racial attitudes from students who are exposed to those of other races and ethnicities. While many educators have long said that they believe in such an impact, the new study provides longitudinal research to back up what to many has been conventional wisdom more than scientific research. These findings may be crucial because court rulings upholding the legality of affirmative action have made the point that some broad societal gain is needed, not just the individual benefit that goes to an admitted minority students.

Other findings, however, may anger some diversity advocates (not to mention some fraternity and sorority leaders). The researchers examined the impact of membership in groups that are defined largely by race and ethnicity (such as black student unions) as well as membership in groups that do not have an explicit racial or ethnic mission, but have overwhelmingly white members (some fraternities and sororities). Generally, they found that a negative impact resulted from membership in these groups — white or minority.”

Its funny, I read the review and the findings from the study and wondered what they mean for entrepreneurs in and around campus.

I have always viewed fraternities, clubs, and various student unions as clear market segments for entrepreneurs to approach. I have also viewed diverse groupings as segments where entrepreneurs can find inspiration, ideas, products etc. and then take them to broader/other audiences and segments. From music and fashion to foods and words, diffusion is common throughout the campus and society.

Clearly the writer of the review (and likely traditional Inside Higher Ed readers) see the questions of student diversity and interactions via a traditional race/affirmative action viewpoint. It also appears the lead author of the study supports implementing strategies based on race for how students interact on campus (read the full review).

I am taking a course on Higher Education Policy next semester with Lee Fritschler at GMU’s SPP and I am interested to see how much of policy is about entrepreneurship (even economic development for that matter) and how much is based on achieving ‘societal goals’ of competing factions on the American political landscape. How much of the debate in higher ed will be dominated by special interest groups and how much will be based on demands of primary customers (students and employers). I will let you know.

The diversity study is coming out soon in a book format and is titled, The Diversity Challenge: Social Identity and Intergroup Relations on the College Campus. The authors are David Sidanius, Shana Levin, Colette van Laar, and David Sears and the book is being published by the Russell Sage Foundation. Hopefully the publisher will send us a copy to review for the site.

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