College Students' Perceptions of Equal Opportunity for African Americans and Race-Based Policy: Do Diversity Course Requirements Make a Difference?

Article excerpt

The empirical goal of this study was to examine whether or not diversity course graduation requirements at a Midwest university reduce racial prejudice and increase support for race-based policy. 128 undergraduate students enrolled in diversity courses completed measures of equal opportunity for African Americans, modern racism, and opposition to race-based policy two weeks before the semester ended. I predicted that those students who had already completed the diversity course graduation requirements would be less likely to believe that there is equal opportunity for African Americans and would support race-based policy. As predicted, modern racism was not only lower in students who fulfilled the university's diversity requirement for graduation, but these students were also more likely to support race-based policy

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Over a decade ago, President Clinton's Advisory Board on Race and Racial Reconciliation identified educational institutions as having the potential to improve race relations by addressing issues of racial disparities, racial inclusion, social justice, and equality for the 21st century (Advisory Board, 1998). One initiative that is widely practiced today in universities and colleges across the nation is the requirement of undergraduate students to take diversity or multicultural courses. The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) had reported in the year 2000 that 340 out of 500 schools either had a diversity requirement or were in the process of developing one (AAC&U, 2000). These diversity course requirements are designed to develop the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to make our nation more democratic and just (Banks, 1996; Chang, 2002; Hogan & Mallott, 2005).

Social scientists and student affairs practitioners are focusing their attention on strategies for reducing racial prejudice as a method of reducing the potential for interracial tension and conflict (Hu & Kuh, 2003 Marullo, 1998; Ortiz & Rhoads, 2000). Indeed, a growing number of empirical studies have shown that efforts to diversify the curriculum have contributed to a positive change in racial attitudes and commitment to improving racial understanding (Nesbitt, 2004; Chang, 2002; Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Pedersen, & Allen, 1999; Springer, Palmer, Terenzini, Pascarella, & Nora, 1996). But on the other hand, empirical studies have also revealed that even though there has been a decline in racial prejudice toward African Americans, whites still hold negative stereotypes of African Americans and oppose race-based policy to reduce racial inequality (Bobo, 2000; Hughes, 1997; Sears, van Laar, Carrillo, & Kosterman, 1997). Furthermore, implementing race-based policies would violate basic norms of meritocracy in our society about the proper allocation of social rewards. Consequently, whites have negative perceptions of African Americans for making illegitimate demands on the racial status quo (Hughes, 1997).

There has been very little evaluation and assessment research on measuring the educational effects of diversity course requirements on prejudice reduction and support for race-based policy. In fact, most studies only measured the educational effect of one diversity course on racial attitudes (Chang, 2002; Hogan and Malott, 2005). In a recent study that used the Modern Racism Scale, Hogan and Mallott (2005) concluded that completion of a racial diversity course had no effect on undergraduate students' feelings of resentment toward African Americans. In addition, Hogan and Mallott's (2005) research findings indicated that diversity education had only a temporary effect on reducing students' opposition toward race-based policies that promote racial equality.

However, Hogan and Mallott (2005) examined the effect of only one diversity course on racial attitudes and in doing so, did not examine the possibility that completing more than one diversity course (i. …