Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 9, Number 1

Diversity Digest
Volume 9,
Number 1

Download our print issue (PDF)
Campus-Community Connections
The Civic Work of Diversity
Educating Multicultural Community Builders: Service Learning at California State University Monterey Bay
Education for Democracy: Place Matters
In the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
Curricular Transformation
Narrative and Community: Civic Engagement and the Work of Diversity
Promoting Cross-Cultural Understanding for Students of Science and Technology
Research Shows Benefits of Linking Diversity and Civic Goals
Diversity and Civic Engagement Outcomes Ranked Among Least Important
Academic Service Learning for Effective Civic Engagement
Faculty Involvement
There Is No Substitute for Experience
Student Experience
The Personal Is Still Political: HIV/AIDS Education and Prevention
Institutional Leadership and Committment
Communicating Common Ground
Resources for Diversity and Civic Engagement
The Civic Engagement Imperative: Student Learning and the Public Good

Research Shows Benefits of Linking Diversity and Civic Goals

By Sylvia Hurtado, professor and director, Higher Education Research Institute, University of California, Los Angeles

Sylvia Hurtado

Diversity initiatives are still sometimes thought to be marginal to the real work of institutions, a “stand-alone” goal, or even too political for broad-based acceptance. But such initiatives are essential if we are committed to developing a tolerant workforce, producing engaged citizens, and advancing the progress of our society. When all students learn about diversity, they will be better prepared to negotiate difference, act responsibly, and make ethical decisions in an increasingly complex and diverse world.

Those of us engaged in advancing the public service mission of institutions must begin to consider the important role that diversity plays in our work and our ability to contribute to the development of underserved communities. We can find allies among civic engagement proponents and should begin to consider how service learning is a vehicle for furthering diversity learning goals. Working together, we need to develop common goals for undergraduate education and faculty development that include working with diverse communities inside and outside the classroom. Many campuses already have a substantial array of initiatives that address diversity and civic engagement. However, greater integration across units and additional program coherence is necessary to explicitly address undergraduate preparation for participation in a diverse democracy.

Fortunately, we have empirical findings that strongly support the beneficial link between campus diversity initiatives and educating for citizenship. Data from the Preparing College Students for a Diverse Democracy project show that campus practices that facilitate student interaction with diversity promote the development of complex thinking and socio-cognitive and democratic skills.* Following are some of the project’s specific findings:

  • Positive, informal interactions with peers from diverse backgrounds resulted in student preferences for more complex thinking about people and their behavior, increased cultural and social awareness, and improvements in perspective-taking skills (the ability to see the world from someone else’s perspective).
  • Significant changes were also associated with increases in students’ democratic sensibilities, including their pluralistic orientation (the ability to work with diverse people and viewpoints), interest in poverty issues, and concern for the public good.
  • In contrast, students who had negative interactions with peers from diverse backgrounds (involving conflict or hostility) were not only least skilled in intergroup relations, but also demonstrated lower scores on the outcomes, suggesting they were least likely to develop the habits of mind needed to function in a diverse world.
  • Students were likely to revert to familiar and solidified positions when encountering conflict in intergroup relations, suggesting that educators need to assist students in understanding and developing constructive ways of dealing with intergroup conflict.
  • Students who enrolled in diversity courses or participated in diversity-related extracurricular programming scored consistently higher on the majority of educational outcomes in the study. This included democratic sensibilities such as interest in poverty issues, concern for the public good, and sense of the importance of making a civic contribution.
  • Taking a diversity course in the first two years of college was also associated with increased likelihood of voting in a federal or state election, while participation in extracurricular activities related to diversity was associated with voting in student elections and increases in leadership skills.
  • Service-learning courses increase students’ concern for the public good, their sense of the importance of making a civic contribution, and their leadership skills.
  • Service learning may have an indirect effect on many more outcomes, and such effects are likely to be partially dependent on students’ skills with diversity.
  • Participation in intergroup dialogue (opportunities for facilitated, extended discussions about diversity) was associated with increases in students’ perspective-taking skills, the development of a pluralistic orientation, interest in poverty issues, and a belief that conflict enhances a democracy (rather than detracts from democratic ideals).

These findings suggest that specific campus practices can help students integrate their learning, merge experience with knowledge, and improve intergroup relations skills. Most significantly, they show that we are able to observe and document the educational effect of diversity on a broad range of outcomes. These are compelling reasons to initiate conversations across campus to create productive links that can further the goals of undergraduate education and the public service mission of institutions.

Our students live in a diverse and complex world, and we have yet to realize the goal of a truly pluralistic democracy in American society. Higher education is largely responsible for producing the next generation of leaders who can manage people and ideas in diverse workplaces. These leaders must possess the values, skills, and knowledge to devise creative solutions to social problems and address the widening social and economic gaps. We have a responsibility to produce graduates of all races and ethnicities who can be agents of change, who can help to identify and reduce social inequality and barriers to participation in our democracy, and who understand, through experience, the link between diversity and civic engagement.

For more information about the Preparing College Students for a Diverse Democracy project, see www.umich.edu/~divdemo.

* It is important to note that our statistical analyses controlled for student predispositions on each of the outcomes we monitored. We were interested in those activities and experiences that contributed to the value-added change on an array of cognitive, socio-cognitive, and democratic outcomes.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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