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Research Shows Positive Student Response to Diversity Initiatives

Campus leaders across the country are calling on higher education to provide more sound educational rationales for the promotion of diversity on campus. A recently released report begins to supply the needed evidence. The Impact of Diversity on Students: A Preliminary Review of the Research Literature is an overview of the current research on the impact of diversity on student learning.

Prepared by Morgan Appel, David Cartwright, Daryl G. Smith, and Lisa E. Wolf, Impact explores what impact diversity is having through an interpretive analysis of both quantitative and qualitative research. The good news from this research is that, for the most part, diversity initiatives have a positive impact on both minority and majority students.

In particular, the research shows that when a campus makes--and is perceived by its students to make--a significant commitment to diversity, there are educational gains for all students. Further, student participation in diversity initiatives contributes to measurable changes in openness to difference, increased commitment to social justice, as well as to cognitive development and academic success.

Impact describes higher education's progression from initial diversity efforts seeking to help students of color succeed on historically white campuses to more comprehensive efforts to reevaluate campus climate and the curriculum in order to educate all students for a diverse society. It also examines the impact of efforts to change the curriculum and to address such issues as gender, race, and religion in campus programming. The report does note that there are sometimes underlying tensions associated with diversity efforts. In particular, "some of the efforts which are successful for targeted student populations are also subject to the most reaction by some majority populations."

The report also exposes many myths. For instance, the authors cite significant research that refutes the media depiction of widespread self-segregation by students of color. Rather than being "a pattern typical of students of color, [self-segregation] is in fact a pattern described by white students." More information on purported student self-segregation.

The authors also note that, as in the case studies described elsewhere in this issue, increasingly, diversity initiatives focus on more comprehensive institution-wide changes. And the evidence suggests that this is, indeed, the most successful change strategy.

Impact reminds readers that attention to issues of diversity is "a long-term enterprise," and, without continual evaluation, sustaining these initiatives and the individual energy they require becomes more difficult. As campuses create diversity initiatives, it is essential that they build into them effective assessment and communications strategies to ensure widespread and ongoing campus support.

What the Research Shows

  • Institutional characteristics related to successful recruitment and retention of students from underrepresented groups include the fostering of a nurturing campus climate, diversity in the curriculum, faculty diversity, clear learning expectations, and student involvement with faculty and campus life.

  • Comprehensive institutional change addressing both campus climate and the curriculum is the right strategy for ensuring learning success for both minority and majority students.

  • More comprehensive institutional change is increasingly related to satisfaction, academic success, and cognitive development of all students.

  • The perception by students that the institution places a high value on diversity is a powerful determinant of student satisfaction with college and of commitments to racial understanding.

To obtain a copy of the entire report, please contact:
AAC&U Publications Desk
1818 R Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009
tel: 202/387-3760, fax: 202/265-9532
e-mail: pub_desk@aacu.nw.dc.us

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