Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Research
Diversity Digest Volume 9, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 9,
Number 2

Download our print issue (PDF)
Campus-Community Connections
Intercultural Learning for Inclusive Excellence
Why Allen and Joan Bildner and the Bildner Family Foundation Funded a Statewide Diversity Initiative
Learning to Listen as We Lead
Institutional Models That Cultivate Comprehensive Change
Curricular Transformation
Where Worlds Converge
Curricular Transformation through Collaborative Teaching
Intercultural Learning in First-Year Seminars
Designing Intercultural and Cross-cultural Spaces
Enhancing Collaborative Leadership of Faculty and Staff
Faculty-Driven Curricular Change
Diversity as Shared Practice
Dialogue Groups at Princeton University Library
Faculty Involvement
Epistles, Posters, and Pizza
Forging Campus-Community Connections
"Beyond Food"
Cross-cultural by Design
Student Experience
Something to Declare
Putting Student Voices in Public Spaces
Café Bergen
Institutional Leadership and Committment
Assessing Diversity Attitudes in First-Year Students
Infusing Cultural Competency into Health Professions Education

Assessing Diversity Attitudes in First-Year Students

By Sonia V. Gonsalves, professor of psychology, the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

Richard Stockton College

Richard Stockton College

Stockton College’s Diversity Issues course for freshmen was conceived to increase students’ openness to issues of difference, to broaden their views of what constitutes diversity, and to reduce their stereotypical judgments. Assessment of students’ post-course perspectives indicates that, to a large extent, the course has been successful in positively affecting their knowledge, skills, and willingness to reflect on diversity.

The Course

Ongoing assessment efforts have played a significant role in the content of Diversity Issues and its ultimate success. During the first year of the grant period, faculty modified existing freshman seminars to include some focus on diversity. However, at the end of the semester, there was very little quantifiable difference in students’ knowledge and attitudes toward diversity issues.

The disappointing results of the initial end-of-semester assessment led project directors to redesign the course. Diversity became the central theme, and professors took advantage of Stockton’s institutional diversity to solicit input and participation from faculty and staff across campus. The course that emerged after this sweeping redesign was far more comprehensive than the previous modified seminars. Diversity Issues included speakers, utilized films, and prescribed readings and writing assignments that highlighted different elements of diversity and multiculturalism. The course explicitly covered gender, race, and religion, but professors were encouraged to include different elements of diversity in their individual class sections. Additionally, students were paired with faculty and staff members of a different background for eight hours of individualized “cultural apprenticeships” that encouraged exposure and dialogue on issues of diversity.

This revamped course structure proved far more beneficial, and produced tangible positive changes in students’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes toward diversity.

Assessment Results

Data were obtained from a total of 830 students over three years of Diversity Issues courses. Assessment of the students’ attitudes and views drew on a number of sources: an attitudes and opinions survey; reaction papers to various speakers, books, and films; students’ cultural autobiographies; and their end-of-semester portfolios.

The attitudes and opinions survey was administered at the beginning and end of the Diversity Issues course. Students reported their level of community engagement, the types of situations that would prompt them to take action to express a position or to challenge a position, the level of comfort they experienced in discussions about issues of difference, and the extent of their beliefs in some stereotypes. Participants also reported whether or not they had close friends from different cultural backgrounds.

Students wrote cultural autobiographies before and after they completed Diversity Issues. The cultural autobiography is a paper that describes the students’ cultural identity and heritage. The autobiography includes information such as ethnic background, family structure, religious identification or practice, cultural traditions, and any other identification that is important to a student’s self-image.

Analysis of the assessment data revealed a number of changes in students’ attitudes after they took Diversity Issues. Most obvious was the increase in students’ understanding of what they considered “diversity.” When asked, “Which of the following do you consider to be diversity issues?” students who took the course identified a wider range of concepts as diversity issues. The greatest post-course increases occurred in students’ understanding of issues related to gender identity, homophobia, ethnocentrism, and sexism, but the ability to conceptualize diversity increased across the board except in “biracial issues.”

Students reported a higher level of engagement in service and other community activities at the end of the semester than at the start. There was also a significantly lower level of the reported stereotypical beliefs by the end of the course.

The data indicated that the course was particularly useful to more open-minded students, but less effective at changing strongly held stereotypical beliefs. Since the majority of the students who held deep stereotypical beliefs were males, women gained most from Diversity Issues, changing their already more informed views to a greater extent than did men. Similarly, students of color were more active in community and political events than white students, were much more likely to take action, and held fewer stereotypical views.

Students identified a presentation by Margaret Stumpp, who is transgendered, as the most significant and eye-opening aspect of their learning experience. They ranked the cultural apprenticeship as the second most noteworthy, and the film Race: The Power of an Illusion third.

Both qualitative and quantitative assessment indicates that the combination of coordinated topics and readings, a larger learning community of faculty and students, and greater consistency in the instructional approach are improvements on the original course model. After three years, Diversity Issues is a proven success in helping students to understand, appreciate, and engage with diversity, and in equipping them with tools for success in a multicultural world.

Questions, comments, and suggested resources should be directed to campbell@aacu.org.
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