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The Diversity Challenge

Social Identity and Intergroup Relations on the College Campus

James Sidanius, Shana Levin, Colette Van Laar, David O. Sears

Publication Year: 2008

College campuses provide ideal natural settings for studying diversity: they allow us to see what happens when students of all different backgrounds sit side by side in classrooms, live together in residence halls, and interact in one social space. By opening a window onto the experiences and evolving identities of individuals in these exceptionally diverse environments, we can gain a better understanding of the possibilities and challenges we face as a multicultural nation. The Diversity Challenge—the largest and most comprehensive study to date on college campus diversity—synthesizes over five years’ worth of research by an interdisciplinary team of experts to explore how a highly diverse environment and policies that promote cultural diversity affect social relations, identity formation, and a variety of racial and political attitudes. The result is a fascinating case study of the ways in which individuals grow and groups interact in a world where ethnic and racial difference is the norm. 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. The Diversity Challenge also reports compelling new evidence that a strong ethnic identity can coexist with a larger community identity: students from all ethnic groups were equally likely to identify themselves as a part of the broader UCLA community. Overall, the authors note that on many measures, the racial and political attitudes of the students were remarkably consistent throughout the five year study. But the transformations that did take place provide us with a wealth of information on how diversity affects individuals, groups, and the cohesion of a community. Theoretically informed and empirically grounded, The Diversity Challenge is an illuminating and provocative portrait of one of the most diverse college campuses in the nation. The story of multicultural UCLA has significant and far-reaching implications for our nation, as we face similar challenges—and opportunities—on a much larger scale.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. v-vi

About the Authors

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

Part 1. Theoretical Background and Overview of the Study

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pp. 1-2

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1. Introduction

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pp. 3-8

Ethnic diversity in the United States has increased substantially in recent years as a result of immigration from abroad and differential birthrates across ethnic groups within the United States. The management of diversity and the assurance of equal opportunity for all...

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2. Theoretical Orientation and Major Themes

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pp. 9-31

Most research on the impact of higher education has focused on outcomes such as academic achievement, long-term earnings, and academic self-esteem; relatively few studies have focused on intergroup relations (for a review of the college impact literature, see Bowen and Bok 1998; Pascarella and Terenzini 1991). The few studies...

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3. The Site and the Study

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pp. 32-62

Any study in the social sciences is set within a particular historical, political, geographic, and social context. One broad societal context for our study consists of the major changes that were triggered in the 1960s as a consequence of the civil rights movement. The system of formal segregation and discrimination imposed on African...

Part 2. Sociopolitical Attitudes and Group Identities: The Entering Student and Persisting Differences

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pp. 63-64

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4. Cultural Diversity and Sociopolitical Attitudes at College Entry Level

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pp. 65-99

The next three chapters of this volume take a life-history perspective on the attitudes of the college students in our study, tracking their political and racial attitudes across the life course. This approach builds from the scholarly traditions of political socialization and life-span developmental psychology (Sears 1975; Sears and Levy 2003)...

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5. The Overall Effects of College Students' Sociopolitical Attitudes

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pp. 100-135

To what extent did the overall college experience influence the students’ sociopolitical attitudes? Had they completed the basic life task of acquiring such attitudes by college exit? That is, how did their key sociopolitical predispositions stand at college exit relative to those of adults in the general population? This chapter, like the previous...

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6. The Origins and Persistence of Ethnic Identity Among the New-Immigrant Groups

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pp. 136-162

The previous two chapters charted the introduction of our students to the American political and racial systems. The fact that most of them are members of minority groups, however, raises other questions that focus more directly on their specifically racial and ethnic experiences on a multicultural campus. UCLA, like the broader American...

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7. In Search of a Common Identity: National and University Identities

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pp. 163-182

In chapter 6, we argued that, in some contexts, the ethnic identities of Asian American and Latino students vary more as a function of how close they are to the immigrant experience than as a function of how much discrimination they have experienced as members of minority...

Part 3. The Impact of Specific University Experiences on Sociopolitical Attitudes and Academic Adjustment

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pp. 183-184

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8. The Effects of Close Intergroup Contact: Interethnic Freindship and Dating In College

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pp. 185-205

In part III of the book, we examine the effects of specific elements of the college experience on students’ intergroup attitudes and social and academic adjustment. In this chapter, using contact theory as our theoretical framework, we examine the effects of interethnic friendships and dating relationships on ethnic attitudes, feelings of...

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9. The Effects of Contact with Ethnically Diverse Roommates

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pp. 206-227

Like chapter 8, this chapter examines predictions derived from contact theory. While the previous chapter focused on contact with ethnically diverse friends and dating partners, this chapter examines the effects of living with white, Asian, Latino, and African American roommates on affective, cognitive, and behavioral indicators of...

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10. Ethnic Organizations and Ethnic Attitudes on Campus

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pp. 228-249

In this chapter, we focus on an issue that has been a central focus of the multiculturalism debate for some time, namely, whether ethnically oriented student organizations, such as the African Student Union, the Vietnamese Student Union, and the Latin American Student Association, increase or decrease the level of ethnic tension and conflict...

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11. Minority Ethnic Groups and the University Experience

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pp. 250-292

In the last few decades, social science researchers have obtained a much better understanding of the social and psychological factors impinging on the achievements of ethnic minority students. Students from some ethnic minority groups are still underrepresented in higher education and show lower academic achievement than their...

Part 4. Conclusions

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pp. 293-294

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12. Summary and Theoretical Integration

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pp. 295-324

This volume began with the observation that a strikingly rapid process of ethnic diversification has been unfolding in the United States over the last forty years. Indeed, the United States, as well as most First World nations, is now home to a vibrant mix of bloodlines, skin...

Appendix A. Survey Questions, Scales, and Waves

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pp. 325-348

Appendix B. Table of Scale Reliability by Wave

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pp. 359-352

Appendix C. Attrition Analysis

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pp. 353-362


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pp. 363-404


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pp. 405-430


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pp. 431-448

E-ISBN-13: 9781610447270
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871547934

Page Count: 424
Publication Year: 2008