Diversity Workshops on Campus: A Survey of Current Practice at U.S. Colleges and Universities

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Telephone interviews about use of diversity workshops were conducted with 281 administrators from a random sample of 356 U.S. 4-year colleges and universities (79% return rate). Results indicate that diversity workshops have been tried by 81% of U.S. colleges and universities, and that 70% were using diversity workshops in 1996-1997. Workshops are slightly more likely at more selective institutions, and substantially less likely at institutions where minority students predominate. Diversity workshops employ a wide range of activities; most common are group activities in which participants share stories of bias and discrimination, and group exercises exploring ethnic differences. The great majority of administrators report that the workshops are positively received by students, but, surprisingly, no institution has undertaken an evaluation of the impact of diversity workshops on the beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors of participants.

The growing importance of ethnic minorities in American life (Johnston & Packer, 1987) has led to concerns about improving communication and understanding between minority and majority groups. One response to this concern has been the introduction of diversity training workshops at many U. S. colleges and universities. B'nai B'rith's "A World of Difference" has been offered on more than 300 college campuses (Anti-Defamation League, 1996), while the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) model has been offered on over 80 campuses in the United States, Canada, Europe and the Middle East (Oliver & Slavin, 1989). The growth of diversity training in higher education has parallels in primary and secondary education (Schwartz & Elcik, 1994; Pate, 1995) and in the business sector (Armitage, 1993; Noe & Ford, 1992). Although use of diversity training in corporate settings has already attracted some research attention (Rynes & Rosen, 1995), little is known about the use of diversity workshops on campus.

Diversity workshops (DW)--sometimes called prejudice reduction workshops, multicultural workshops, pluralism workshops or anti-bias workshops--differ from typical academic instruction in a number of ways. DW is usually shorter (duration of hours rather than weeks), more interactive (based on small-group exercises and discussion), and emphasizes affective rather than only cognitive experience. Specifically, DW participants engage in exploration and sharing of attitudes towards various groups, air negative and positive feelings, share personal experiences of injury or discrimination, roleplay, and practice managing intergroup conflict (Brown & Mazza, undated; Brown & Mazza, 1991). Some workshops are preceded by films or skits meant to spark discussion (Anti-Defamation League, 1996; Ponterotto & Pedersen, 1993). DW may be offered to incoming freshmen during orientation and/or to students, faculty, administrative and support staff during the school year (Berg-Cross, Starr & Sloan, 1993).

Although use of diversity workshops on campus appears to be growing quickly, little is known about DW prevalence, the models and methods employed, the training of DW leaders, or the impact of DW on participants. The present study was designed to provide information about the adoption of this educational innovation by U.S. colleges and universities. In particular, the present survey was designed to provide information that would be helpful both to college and university administrators considering whether or how to introduce DW, and to scholars interested in educational and organizational innovation.

The closest parallel to the present study is a survey of diversity training in the workplace conducted by Rynes and Rosen (1995). Surveys were mailed to 6000 members of the Society for Human Resource Management (excluding consultants and self-employed), and 785 completed surveys were received. Results indicated that DW was already widely accepted in the workplace; one third (32%) of respondents reported some form of diversity training going on at their firm. …