Research on Race and Ethnic Relations among Community College Students

Article excerpt

Considerable research has been conducted in the past two decades on race and ethnic relations among community college students. The atheoretical underpinnings of this research have led to vague and conflicting findings regarding such concepts as campus climate, discrimination, and the benefits of campus diversity. This article briefly reviews potentially relevant theories and research methods and offers many specific suggestions for future research on student diversity.

Keywords: race relations; ethnic relations; intergroup relations; interracial contact; social interaction; campus surveys; campus climate; discrimination; community college students; 2-year colleges

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Despite dramatic demographic, political, and cultural changes in North American society, there is a remarkable absence of scholarly research on student race relations and campus climates in community colleges. Political forces have struggled over immigration and affirmative action policies, including the landmark court case University of California v. Bakke (1978) and the more recent Grutter v. Bollinger (2003). Demographic trends show that the proportion of racial and ethnic minority students doubled in the colleges from 15.7% to 30.3% between 1976 and 1996 and will continue to increase in the next 25 years (Kee, 1999). Yet a recent review of the burgeoning scholarship on this issue refers almost entirely to 4-year university settings (Hurtado, Dey, Gurin, & Gurin, 2003).

Given this significant gap in the literature, this review addresses two central questions:

Research Question 1: How have scholars previously examined relations among community college students from diverse racial and ethnic groups?

Research Question 2: What are promising future theoretical topics and research methods for studying relations among community college students from diverse racial and ethnic groups?

For the purposes of this review, the students of interest are those who attend community colleges with considerable structural diversity (i.e., those who attend 2-year colleges other than tribal colleges, historically Black colleges, overwhelmingly White colleges, and others populated almost entirely by one cultural group). This article begins with a brief description of several theories of race relations among diverse racial and ethnic students. These theories are borrowed mainly from the social sciences and 4-year college literature. The remainder of the review examines empirical studies of diversity and campus climate in community colleges. We do not conclude this review with a list of findings or future research suggestions because few well-established conclusions can be drawn from the literature. Rather, we focus the discussion in each section on future research opportunities instead of deferring them to the conclusion.

In addition to student race and ethnic relations, which is the subject of this review, community college scholarship has also considered race and ethnicity as discrete categories. These studies are outside the scope of this review but have included, for example, analyses of success rates among student groups, instructional and programmatic efforts designed for diverse students, and relations between diverse students, faculty, and staff (see, e.g., Cejda & Rhodes, 2004; Nora, 2004; Rendon, Hope, & Associates, 1996; Townsend, 2000).

Theories About Student Race Relations

The preeminent theories of student race relations rarely comment on community colleges. As such, the theories discussed in this section depend heavily on the 4-year college literature. Note that although the most cited theories emphasize the psychological features of diversity efforts, this analysis will also address the social factors of diversity and, where the limited literature permits, the cultural dimensions of diversity.

Functional Theories

The prevailing perspective on campus diversity is drawn from Allport's (1954) contact theory. …