The Emerging Picture of How Students
By Daryl G. Smith, et. al.
In reviewing research on the impact
of diversity on students in higher education,
we have combed research reports from
numerous sources to compose a picture
of our current understanding of the
value to students of diversity on campus.
While many studies reviewed for this
report evaluate the practices employed
by individual institutions and their
programs, others use national databases
and multi-institutional studies to provide
an empirical foundation for the development
of individual initiatives.
Over time, the research traces a movement from focused
concern for the access, retention, and success of underrepresented
students in higher education to broader concerns about
the effects of increasing demographic, cultural, and
social changes on the educational context as a whole
campus services, intergroup relations, pedagogy, the
curriculum, and institutional purpose. While concern
for the continuing underrepresentation of certain groups
of students remains high on the research and institutional
agenda, the analysis of campus diversity now also includes
new developments in climate, curriculum, scholarship,
institutional practice, and mission. As fundamental
changes resulting from societal diversity are felt throughout
an institution and its constituencies, multi-faceted
and ongoing evaluations of the impact of these changes
Campus leaders are also exploring
what institutional changes are needed
to successfully educate a diverse student
body to live, work, and excel in a complex
and pluralistic society. These changes
mean more than just the successful adjustment
of new categories of students to a given
institution. They include as well how
institutions must be altered if they
are to better educate and prepare all
students for a changing world.
While conclusions about successful
strategies for implementing broad-based
changes are preliminary, the published
research literature nonetheless warrants
a number of statements about "what works"
in campus diversity efforts.
1. Overall, the literature suggests
that diversity initiatives positively
affect both minority and majority students
on campus. Significantly, diversity
initiatives have an impact not only
on student attitudes and feelings toward
intergroup relations on campus, but
also on institutional satisfaction,
involvement, and academic growth.
2. Programs which focus on the transition
to college are important for the recruitment,
retention, and academic success of underrepresented
students. The apparent success of honors
approaches for at-risk students suggests
that the differences between cultural
and academic transitions need to be
clearly addressed in the design of transitional
and special support programs.
3. Mentoring programs, involving both
student peers and faculty, consistently
result in improved adjustment, retention,
and academic success rates for their
participants. Faculty involvement with
students produces similar results.
4. The evidence grows showing that
involvement in specialized student groups,
such as ethnic residential theme houses,
support centers, and academic departments
benefits students of color and others.
Indeed, these activities appear to contribute
to increased satisfaction and retention,
despite prodigious commentary of their
negative effect on the development of
community on campus.
5. Though specialized student support
programs and campus community have been
pitted against each other, research
results suggest that institutional commitment
to both contributes to the educational
success of all students. These findings
underscore the capacity of individuals,
groups, and institutions to thrive through
an acknowledgment of multiple affiliations
and identities on campus.
6. Contrary to widespread reports
of self-segregation among students of
color on campuses, the research finds
this pattern more typical of white students.
Students of color interact more with
dominant students than the reverse.
7. Opportunities for interaction between
and among student groups are desired
by virtually all students and produce
clear increases in understanding and
decreases in prejudicial attitudes.
Such opportunities also positively affect
academic success. The conditions under
which interactions among individuals
are likely to be beneficial include
institutional support, equal status,
and common goals.
8. Increasing numbers of campuses
are recognizing the significance of
creating opportunities for intergroup
dialogue as part of diversity efforts.
However, the conditions for effective
dialogue cannot be assumed and the necessity
of sustaining difficult dialogues has
become increasingly urgent. There appear
to be significant numbers of instances
where institutions and groups are "talking
past" one another. While the literature
reviewed here focuses on campus initiatives
with students, it is likely that evaluating
the conditions for dialogue among other
constituencies, including faculty and
administrators, is equally important.
9. The evidence continues to grow
that serious engagement of issues of
diversity in the curriculum and in the
classroom has a positive impact on attitudes
toward racial issues, on opportunities
to interact in deeper ways with those
who are different, on cognitive development,
and on overall satisfaction and involvement
with the institution. These benefits
are particularly powerful for white
students who have had less opportunity
for such engagement.
10. Recent research on the significance
of the institutional commitment to diversity
suggests that the perception of a broad
campus commitment to diversity is related
to increased recruitment and retention
of students from underrepresented groups.
11. This perception of a broad campus
commitment to diversity is also related
to positive educational outcomes for
all students, individual satisfaction,
and a commitment to improving racial
12. Evidence in the literature suggests
that comprehensive institutional change
in teaching methods, curriculum, campus
climate, and institutional definition
provides educational benefits for both
minority and majority students. Comprehensive
diversity initiatives, beyond their
capacity to improve access and retention
for underrepresented groups, are related
to satisfaction, academic success, and
cognitive development for all students.
13. Special mission institutions,
historically black colleges and universities
(HBCUs), American Indian controlled
colleges, women's colleges, and Latino/a
serving institutions are important in
higher education for the student groups
they serve. High expectations, belief
in students' ability to succeed, community
involvement, and the presence of role
models seem to play crucial parts in
their well-documented success.
14. While reports of successful diversity
initiatives are encouraging, more cross-institutional
studies are needed. Moreover, the deeper
studies which are emerging from individual
campuses will continue to expand what
we know about effective strategies,
about the differential impact of certain
strategies for different student groups,
and about the apparent relationship
between addressing the needs of underrepresented
students through particular programs
and initiatives, while at the same time
addressing institutional issues through
broad based strategies.
15. We also need more clear analysis
of what students need to know and do
to function in a diverse workplace and
global society, and what part they can
play in developing healthy, respectful
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