SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
A racially and ethnically diverse university student body has far-ranging and significant benefits for all students, non-minorities and minorities alike. Students learn better in a diverse educational environment, and they are better prepared to become active participants in our pluralistic, democratic society once they leave such a setting. In fact, patterns of racial segregation and separation historically rooted in our national life can be broken by diversity experiences in higher education. This Report describes the strong evidence supporting these conclusions derived from three parallel empirical analyses of university students, as well as from existing social science theory and research.
Students come to universities at a critical stage of their development, a time during which they define themselves in relation to others and experiment with different social roles before making permanent commitments to occupations, social groups, and intimate personal relationships. In addition, for many students college is the first sustained exposure to an environment other than their home communities. Higher education is especially influential when its social milieu is different from the community background from which the students come, and when it is diverse enough and complex enough to encourage intellectual experimentation. The University of Michigan, like similar institutions of higher education, recognizes this special opportunity and the corresponding obligation to take advantage of it. Diversity of all forms in the student body -- including racial diversity -- is crucially important in helping students become conscious learners and critical thinkers, and in preparing them for participation in a pluralistic, diverse society.
Students learn more and think in deeper, more complex ways in a diverse educational environment. Extensive research in social psychology demonstrates that active engagement in learning cannot be taken for granted. In fact, much "thought" is actually the automatic result of previously learned routines; most people do not employ effortful and conscious modes of thought very often. For an educational institution, the challenge obviously is to find ways to engage the deeper, less automatic mode of thinking. Complex thinking occurs when people encounter a novel situation for which, by definition, they have no script, or when the environment demands more than their current scripts provide. Racial diversity in a college or university student body provides the very features that research has determined are central to producing the conscious mode of thought educators demand from their students. This is particularly true at the University of Michigan, because most of the University's students come to Ann Arbor from segregated backgrounds. For most students, then, Michigan's social diversity is new and unfamiliar, a source of multiple and different perspectives, and likely to produce contradictory expectations. Social diversity is especially likely to increase effortful, active thinking when institutions of higher education capitalize on these conditions in the classroom and provide a climate in which students from diverse backgrounds frequently interact with each other.
These conclusions are confirmed by one of the most broad and extensive series of empirical analyses conducted on college students in relation to diversity. I examined multi-institutional national data, the results of an extensive survey of students at the University of Michigan, and data drawn from a specific classroom program at the University of Michigan. It is clear from all three analyses that interaction with peers from diverse racial backgrounds, both in the classroom and informally, is positively associated with a host of what I call "learning outcomes." Students who experienced the most racial and ethnic diversity in classroom settings and in informal interactions with peers showed the greatest engagement in active thinking processes, growth in intellectual engagement and motivation, and growth in intellectual and academic skills.
The benefits of a racially diverse student body are also seen in a second major area. Education plays a foundational role in a democracy by equipping students for meaningful participation. Students educated in diverse settings are more motivated and better able to participate in an increasingly heterogeneous and complex democracy. They are better able to understand and consider multiple perspectives, deal with the conflicts that different perspectives sometimes create, and appreciate the common values and integrative forces that harness differences in pursuit of the common good. Students can best develop a capacity to understand the ideas and feelings of others in an environment characterized by the presence of diverse others, equality among peers, and discussion under rules of civil discourse. These factors are present on a campus with a racially diverse student body. Encountering students from different racial and ethnic groups enables students to get to know one another and to appreciate both similarities and differences.
The results of the three empirical analyses confirm the central role of higher education in helping students to become active citizens and participants in a pluralistic democracy. Education in a racially diverse setting is positively associated with a broad array of what I call "democracy outcomes." Students who experienced diversity in classroom settings and in informal interactions showed the most engagement during college in various forms of citizenship, and the most engagement with people from different races and cultures. They were also the most likely to acknowledge that group differences are compatible with the interests of the broader community. These effects continued after the students left the university setting. Diversity experiences during college had impressive effects on the extent to which graduates in the national study were living racially and ethnically integrated lives in the post-college world. Students with the most diversity experiences during college had the most cross-racial interactions five years after leaving college. The University of Michigan is particularly aware that most of its students (like those at similar institutions) come from schools and neighborhoods that are largely segregated. The long-term pattern of racial separation noted by many social scientists can be broken by diversity experiences in higher education.
Taken together, the results of these original analyses are compelling. There is a consistent pattern of positive relationships between diversity in higher education and both learning and democracy outcomes. This pattern holds across racial and ethnic groups and across a broad range of outcomes. And the benefits of diversity are evident at the national level, after four years of college and five years after leaving college, and in the studies of Michigan students. This consistency is unusual in my experience as a social scientist. These analyses, which are supported by the research literature, provide strong evidence of the compelling benefits to our society of racial diversity in higher education.