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The Review of Higher Education 25.1 (2001) 63-89

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Diversity and the Influence of Friendship Groups in College

Anthony Lising Antonio


As we enter a new millennium, American higher education continues to experience rapid racial and ethnic diversification in the student body. Demographic projections indicate that increasing ethnic and racial diversity will continue beyond the year 2000 (Justiz, 1994; Levine & Associates, 1989). On some campuses, the pace of demographic change has been nothing short of dramatic. At the University of California, for example, White students 1 still represented over 70% of all undergraduates as late as 1984. Just six years later in 1990, however, the White student proportion had dropped to less than 60% of all students (University of California, 1991) and only 46% of first-time freshmen (CPEC, 1995).

American higher education has also experienced a fair amount of criticism and discussion of late, coincident with the increasing racial diversification [End Page 63] of the student body. In the 1980s and 1990s, race, ethnicity, and cultural diversity became central points of contention throughout the entire curriculum (Botstein, 1991), and racial issues began to be recognized in all facets of American higher education (Altbach, 1991). Observers renewed their interest in the issues of free speech on campus, faculty hiring and evaluation, and student conduct, this time in the forms of racially motivated hate speech, the racial composition of faculty, and incidents of racism on campus (Altbach & Lomotey, 1991; Dalton, 1991; Hively, 1990). Despite the amount of national attention being given to these issues, there continues to be a lack of research, particularly empirical research, on some of the most basic questions with regard to the development of college students in these multicultural contexts.

For example, higher education leaders typically have embraced the growing diversity of their campuses, asserting that a racially diverse student body is necessary for preparing students to be efffective citizens in a multicultural society (e.g., Rudenstine, 1996; Young, 1995). Critics of the university, on the other hand, point to reports of increasingly tense racial climates on campus and racial self-segregation among students; they maintain that such racially "balkanized" environments produce students with greater levels of racial intolerance and ethnocentrism than when they entered college (D'Souza, 1991; Sowell, 1989). These rather polarized views on what could be termed the "civic" outcomes of college in a multicultural environment coexist, in part, because of our limited knowledge of student development in a racially diverse setting.

Whether the issue under contention is hate speech, an ethnic studies requirement, or faculty hiring practices, the education and development of students lies in the resolution of these issues. Consequently, alongside these important dialogues stands a continuing deliberation over the outcomes of a college education, particularly as they relate to demographic realities. Perhaps the most relevant of these outcomes in this context is the preparation of students as citizens and leaders in society. Although the training of civic leaders for society has been a goal of colleges since colonial times (Rudolph, 1965), the realities of contemporary America demand that citizens be capable of negotiating a culturally diverse society (Rudenstine, 1996). Unfortunately, data on the effectiveness of today's colleges in producing such citizens is sparse. The general purpose of this study is to contribute empirical data to questions regarding the developmental aspect of student experiences on a multicultural campus and to specifically address the impact of racial diversity on racial understanding, cultural awareness, and interracial interaction. [End Page 64]

Previous Research

One group of researchers published a report in the early 1990s that vividly described student experiences with racial diversity at UC Berkeley. In the process, they coined a term for a phenomenon that has received an inordinate amount of attention by scholars, pundits, and the national media--balkanization (Duster, 1991). Balkanization, or the tendency for students to group themselves racially on campus, has received such intense attention, in part, because it shatters idyllic conceptions of multicultural race relations. Citing Duster's findings, conservative commentators like Dinesh D'Souza (1991) concluded that the multicultural campus experience is...


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