A new study that tracked 2,000 UCLA students over a span of five years reveals how diversity on college campuses impacts identities, attitudes and group conflicts over time.
Co-authored by David Sears, UCLA distinguished professor of psychology and political science, the study appears in the book "The Diversity Challenge: Social Identity and Intergroup Relations on the College Campus," published this month by the Russell Sage Foundation. The authors note that the study is the largest and most comprehensive to date on college campus diversity.
Among the major findings:
- Racial prejudice generally decreased with exposure to ethnically diverse roommates, friends and dating partners. For instance, students who were randomly assigned to roommates of a different ethnicity developed more favorable attitudes toward all other ethnic groups.
- Students who interacted mainly with others of similar backgrounds were more likely to exhibit bias toward others and perceive discrimination against their group.
- Involvement in ethnically segregated student organizations, such as minority-specific groups, sharpened perceptions of discrimination and aggravated conflict between groups. Membership in fraternities and sororities in which whites were overrepresented also increased the members' opposition to an ethnically diverse campus, their belief that ethnic organizations promote separatism and their opposition to mixed marriages.
- A strong ethnic identity can coexist with a larger community identity: Students from all ethnic groups were equally likely to identify themselves as part of the broader UCLA community.
The authors said they chose UCLA because it is one of the most diverse college campuses in the nation. No single ethnic group had a clear numerical majority at the time of the study, which took place between 1996 and 2001 — and that remains the case today.
The study's co-authors are Jim Sidanius, professor of psychology and African American studies at Harvard University; Shana Levin, associate professor of psychology at Claremont McKenna College; and Colette van Laar, professor of social psychology at Leiden University in the Netherlands.