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The university's fundamentals for diversity affect black and white students differently

A new study shows that different reasons for paying attention to campus diversity have … [+] substantially different effects for black and white students.


As colleges and universities continue to attempt to increase the racial diversity of their campuses, a new study by A team of researchers from Princeton University has found that the reasons given by institutions for such diversification have strikingly different effects on black and white students. . The article, written by psychology doctoral candidate Jordan G. Starck and Princeton faculty members Stacey Sinclair and J. Nicole Shelton, was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .

The researchers conducted eight related studies with approximately 1,200 participants. His interest was to compare the two main rationales used by universities to explain why they value efforts to increase campus diversity.

The most common justification is what they called an "instrumental rationale," which holds that increasing diversity is essential because it adds minority perspectives that ultimately produce educational benefits for all students. The second approach is what they called a "moral foundation," which often invokes a legacy of institutional racial inequality and asserts that people of all backgrounds deserve access to quality education.

The instrumental rationale is one that has been defended in Supreme Court cases that have allowed the use of race-conscious college admissions; therefore, it could be expected that this is the explanation that institutions would use most frequently to explain their policies. The instrumental rationale essentially holds that because the majority, and the minority, students derive educational value from the greater presence of minority students, it is a "smart thing to do." On the contrary, the moral foundations emphasize that trying to rectify racial discrimination is "the right thing to do."

In the first four studies, the researchers compared how black and white people responded to the two fundamentals. They asked the participants to imagine themselves as future students and then read and react to the two different types of college diversity statements, in addition to a control condition that emphasized curricular rather than social diversity.

In all of these studies, white participants consistently preferred colleges with foundations that emphasized the educational and utilitarian benefits of diversity. Black participants, on the other hand, preferred universities whose statements emphasized moral issues.

The authors went on to two studies that looked at the reactions of two other important groups: student caregivers (eg, parents, grandparents, etc.) and admissions officers. They asked caregivers of students who were in the middle of or just completing the college admissions process about their preferences for colleges on the basis of moral or instrumental diversity. Caregivers' preferences matched those of participants in the first four studies. White caregivers were more favorable to instrumental fundamentals, while back carers preferred the moral foundation.

When asked to anticipate the preference of black and white students, admissions officers confirmed the opinions of the other samples: They indicated that they expected future white students to prefer an instrumentally motivated college over a morally motivated one and that black students prefer University. opposite.

In Study 7, researchers examined diversity claims displayed on university websites. They then coded those statements as to whether they were predominantly instrumental or moral in their foundations. In general, both fundamentals were common, but the instrumental fundamentals were more frequent. While 56% of the universities were more instrumentally than morally motivated, only 34% were more morally than instrumentally motivated.

To examine the possibility that official website statements do not accurately reflect how institutions actually approach diversity, the researchers also asked admissions officials about their perceptions of the fundamentals of diversity in higher education. Admissions officers indicated that they thought instrumental foundations were used significantly more in higher education than moral foundations, and that both were used much more than a colorblind admissions approach that would not take into account the race of students at all. They concluded that "in general, we find support in the online rhetoric of both universities and in the perceptions of admissions officers that universities employ instrumental foundations to a greater degree than moral foundations."

In the final study, a practical, real-world consequence of the different fundamentals of diversity was examined. The authors coded the diversity content on the websites of 188 national universities and then matched that information with the graduation rates of black and white students in those schools.

The type of foundation was not associated with graduation rates for white students. However, when the use of moral foundations by universities was low, the use of instrumental diversity foundations was negatively related to black student graduation rates. "Overall, these data indicate that disparities between black and white student graduation rates widen as colleges become increasingly instrumentally motivated, especially when they have little moral motivation." A similar pattern was found for graduation rates for Hispanic students.

In summary, the study has clear implications for how colleges seeking more racially equitable outcomes can publicly frame their motivations and policies to increase student diversity. Rather than simply championing the practical educational benefits that greater diversity offers, universities must also consider the importance of emphasizing the moral imperatives behind this.

While the most common approach to diversity in higher education reflects the preferences of white Americans and is the most legally recognized, they appear to have some negative implications for black students, especially if they are the only rationale provided. Expressing a moral commitment to diversity and inclusion conveys an institutional value that understandably has a special resonance with underrepresented minority students. When doing the smart thing is described as doing the right thing, inclusion is the best opportunity to move forward.

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