On a multicultural university campus, who benefits the most?

June 17, 2010

At a time when American universities across the country increasingly market their racial diversity to prospective students, Temple sociologist Sherri Grasmuck set out to explore what “diversity” means. She interviewed 64 college students, who identified themselves as members of a minority group, to find out who benefits most from diversity on college campuses and what do the students themselves have to say about it.

According to Grasmuck, the answers may surprise you.

“What I found was a complicated mixture of students who drink of the diversity offered on a college campus and students who stay within their ethnic or racial group,” said Grasmuck. “But of those who do stay within their group, the reasons why are interesting and not at all obvious.”

Her interviews revealed that a surprising number of students who socialized primarily within their own cultural group identified this as a new tendency that allowed them to affirm their cultural identity.

“I found this to be predominant pattern among middle class minority and immigrant students who suddenly discovered a peer group like themselves for the first time in their lives,” said Grasmuck.

“For these students, socializing within what they considered to be their own culture was a new pattern with positive pay offs. Homogenous social mixing provided for these students a deep affirmation of self that also proved academically empowering.”

Overall, Grasmuck found that the students most satisfied with their experiences on a multicultural campus were the ones who had made their own choices about peer associations, and those least happy had felt constrained by peer group boundaries and pressures.

For more, read What does “diversity” really mean?

–Kim Fischer

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