- Diversity Experiences and Perceptions of Climate Among Australian University Students
In the past two decades, the proportion of students of color at American colleges and universities has increased substantially, and similar trends toward diversification are also occurring in other nations (McInnis, 2003). In the context of this burgeoning campus heterogeneity, promoting a positive climate for diversity has become increasingly important. Institutions that have sought to promote racial/ethnic diversity have generally started by increasing the representation of students of color, but many have not been sufficiently prepared to support a more diverse student population (Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Pedersen, & Allen, 1999). Such a lack of support can be quite problematic because perceptions of a hostile campus racial climate are associated with lower college adjustment, sense of belonging, institutional commitment, satisfaction, grades, and persistence for both minority and majority students (e.g., Fischer, 2007; Locks, Hurtado, Bowman, & Oseguera, 2008; Nora & Cabrera, 1996). This evidence suggests that improving campus climate is important for any institution that seeks to improve student success and flourishing. The current study explores the relationship between Australian students’ college diversity experiences and perceived climate.
In their framework of the campus climate for racial/ethnic diversity, Hurtado et al. (1999) proposed that psychological climate (i.e., perceptions of racial/ethnic tension, prejudice, and discrimination) is directly influenced by three factors: the historical legacy of inclusion/exclusion; the representation of diverse students, faculty, and staff; and the “behavioral dimension” of interracial interactions, classroom diversity, and campus diversity involvement. The existing research largely focuses on the potential impact of the first two dimensions, along with negative interactions across difference. Indeed, a legacy of exclusion and negative diversity interactions are associated with perceptions of a more hostile campus climate (e.g., Harper & Hurtado, 2007; Solórzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000), whereas the beneficial impact of structural diversity depends on the extent to which the institution successfully promotes meaningful engagement with and incorporation of diversity (e.g., Chang, 1996; Hurtado, 1992). In addition, Allport’s (1954) contact theory emphasizes the importance of quality and quantity of interaction to improve intergroup attitudes and reduce prejudice (also see Pettigrew, 1998). Thus, [End Page 323] it is reasonable to assume that students’ direct engagement with diversity and the quality of that engagement—whether this occurs through interpersonal interactions, the curriculum, or the cocurriculum—should also play an important role in shaping perceptions of the campus climate.
However, from a conceptual standpoint, the relationship between college diversity interactions and perceived climate for diversity is not clear. Students who have many positive diversity interactions might reflect on these experiences and view the campus as having a more favorable climate. On the other hand, these same students may also be more likely to hear about instances of prejudice and discrimination on campus and/or to become more sensitive to intergroup bias, which would lead to perceptions of a more hostile climate. The few studies that have examined this issue provide mixed results. Latino students’ positive interracial interactions were associated with a more hostile climate in one study (Nuñez, 2009), but no such effect was observed for students of color or White students in another study (Locks et al., 2008), and Asian students who had roommates from a different race were actually more satisfied with campus diversity (Park, 2009). Neither the overall frequency of interracial interactions nor taking an ethnic studies course was significantly related to perceived campus climate (Hurtado, 1994; Locks et al., 2008; Mayhew, Grunwald, & Dey, 2005; Park, 2009). In contrast, diversity course work (more broadly defined), attending a racial/cultural workshop, and participation in racial/ethnic student organizations were often—but not always—associated with more negative climate perceptions (Hurtado, 1994; Mayhew et al., 2005; Nuñez, 2009; Park, 2009).
The existing research has some important limitations. First, no study has used a pretest for campus climate, so it is unclear whether any link between diversity experiences and climate reflects changes in perceived climate over time. Some people are generally predisposed toward perceiving prejudice and discrimination (e.g., they are more attuned to inequities; see Major, Quinton, & McCoy, 2002), so the use of a climate pretest variable would...