Study Finds Campus Diversity Doesn’t Necessarily Foster Belonging

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Black woman sits alone at a table

Diversity on college campuses does not necessarily lead to more interactions between underrepresented students, according to a 2022 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 

However, students of color and those from less privileged socioeconomic backgrounds who do engage across social groups report a stronger sense of belonging and better academic performance.

Researchers asked 550 students at two U.S. universities to complete surveys eight times during a semester to detail their most meaningful interactions of the past 24 hours. Students noted the perceived gender, race, and social class of the other person involved in these interactions. At the end of the semester, participants completed a final survey about their feelings of belonging. 

The research team used demographic data to calculate the rate at which interactions among different groups should naturally occur. For example, if the campus population of students of color is 43 percent, then a White student could expect to interact with people of color 43 percent of the time. 

The results, however, showed 15 percent fewer cross-class interactions than expected, and 27 percent fewer cross-race engagements. Black, Native American, and Latino students reported interacting with a White or Asian student less than a third of the time.— despite these groups making up 73 percent of the universities’ student bodies.

Underrepresented students, including those with higher GPAs, who participated in cross-group activities gained the most benefits. They were also more likely to feel welcomed and at home at their universities. For White and Asian students, and those from middle- or upper-class backgrounds, diverse associations had little or no effect on their academic experience.

To help more students achieve the positive effects of cross-cultural interactions, researchers recommend that universities place diverse groups of students together whenever possible, such as in dorm room assignments and class projects.

This article was published in our March 2023 issue.