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  • The Conditional Effects of Interracial Interactions on College Student Outcomes
  • Nicholas A. Bowman (bio)

Given the increasing racial diversity among American college students and society, it is critical to promote meaningful interracial interactions during college. Although a burgeoning literature demonstrates the link between interracial interactions and an array of student outcomes, some important issues have been largely overlooked. Most research on interracial interactions does not examine how these effects might vary depending on the groups involved in the interaction. The outcomes for interracial interactions may differ not only between minority and majority students, but also for racial minorities interacting with Whites versus with other people of color. This study explores whether the link between interracial interactions and college outcomes depends upon students' race and the race of students with whom they interact.

Interracial interactions are associated with academic, cognitive, civic, and psychological outcomes that are not explicitly related to diversity, and the strength of these relationships generally does not differ between students of color and White students (e.g., Gurin, Dey, Hurtado, & Gurin, 2002; Kotori, 2009; Locks, Hurtado, Bowman, & Oseguera, 2008; Vogelgesang, 2001). In contrast, interracial interactions are positively linked to diversity-related outcomes for all racial/ethnic groups, but these effects are somewhat stronger among Whites than among students of color (e.g., Hu & Kuh, 2003; Kotori, 2009; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006; Vogelgesang, 2001). The differences in predicting diversity outcomes may occur because minority students might be more likely than majority students to perceive interracial interactions in a negative manner, or a ceiling effect may limit some gains for minority students' diversity outcomes.

Very little research has examined whether the impact of interracial interactions depends upon the group with whom students interact (e.g., Blacks' interactions with Latinos versus with Whites). Two exceptions are noteworthy. Lopez (2004) found that, regardless of the racial group with whom students interacted and the type of outcome, the strongest relationships between interracial interactions and outcomes occurred among Asian participants. Unfortunately, this study had a reasonably small number of students of color, so these findings should be viewed cautiously. Second, van Laar, Levin, Sinclair, and Sidanius (2005) found that having a roommate from a different racial/ethnic group was associated with decreased prejudice and more positive intergroup attitudes, and these effects were most pronounced among students who had Black and Latino roommates. In addition, regardless of participants' race/ethnicity, having Asian roommates was associated with increased racial prejudice and antipathy. However, those findings may have been influenced by the single-school sample; Asian students were the largest racial/ethnic group at that institution, and the Asians in their study [End Page 322] had more negative intergroup attitudes than did students from all other groups.

Importantly, psychological research suggests that the impact of interracial interactions with White students may differ from interactions with students of color. In majority-minority interactions, Whites are often concerned about appearing prejudiced, whereas people of color are often concerned about Whites being biased against them (Gaertner & Dovidio, 1986; Vorauer & Kumhyr, 2001). Moreover, students' racial attitudes and preconceptions about their interracial conversational partner substantially affect the outcomes from those interactions (Plant & Devine, 2003; Shelton & Richeson, 2006). Therefore, the effects of interracial interactions may depend upon whether the interactions are minority-majority or minority-minority.

This study examined the extent to which the link between interracial interactions and college student outcomes depends upon students' own race and the race of students with whom they interact. This research avoided some limitations of previous work by using a longitudinal study with large numbers of Asian, Black, Hispanic, and White students. To determine the generalizability of these patterns, the current analyses explored a broad range of outcomes, including several that were not explicitly race-related and several that were race-related.


Data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen were used. Approximately equal numbers of Asian, Black, Hispanic, and White incoming first-year students from 28 selective colleges and universities were invited to take part in the study, and 3,924 students (86%) agreed to participate. Follow-up surveys were conducted at the end of each academic year; students who transferred or who dropped out of college were followed and retained in the sample to...


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