Deaf College Students' Attitudes toward Racial/ethnic Diversity, Campus Climate, and Role Models

Article excerpt

DEAF COLLEGE STUDENTS' attitudes toward a variety of issues related to racial/ethnic diversity were surveyed by contacting all racial/ethnic minority deaf students and a random sample of Caucasian deaf students attending the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), Rochester Institute of Technology; 38% completed the survey. Although racial/ethnic groups similarly perceived NTID's commitment and efforts related to diversity, they differed significantly on some items related to campus climate and role models. Furthermore, the racial/ethnic minority groups differed from each other in their perceptions of campus comfort level, racial conflict, friendship patterns, and availability of role models. Educational satisfaction was positively correlated with campus comfort level; both correlated negatively with perception of discrimination and racial conflict. Qualitative data analyses supported quantitative data analyses and provided rich detail that facilitated interpretation of deaf students' experiences related to racial/ethnic diversity.

The importance of recognizing the cultural diversity of students in planning their educational experiences on campus and consequently strengthening student retention has inspired much recent discussion and research in higher education. Retention rates and the academic success of racial/ethnic minority students are central concerns shared by universities across the United States (Anderson & McGee, 2000; Gandara, 1999).

Educational satisfaction and campus climate are among the variety of complex factors that are recognized as influencing racial/ethnic minority retention rates and academic success. Chang, Witt-Sandis, Jones, and Hakuta (1999) suggest that race influences social perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors in ways that place members of racial/ethnic minority groups at a disadvantage. They also suggest that racially diverse environments, when properly nurtured, lead to both quantitative and qualitative gains in educational outcomes for all students, including higher retention rates and greater overall satisfaction with college.

Landrum, Dillinger, and Vandernoot (2000) found that campus comfort level relates positively to educational satisfaction for racial/ethnic minority hearing students. No empirical data are available regarding the campus comfort level and educational satisfaction of racial/ethnic minority deaf students. Twenty-three percent of deaf college students enrolled at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY, are racial/ethnic minority deaf students, and their retention rate is lower than that of Caucasian deaf students. It is possible that campus comfort level and educational satisfaction are important factors determining the retention rates of racial/ethnic minority deaf students.

For the present study, we constructed a 35-item "Campus Diversity Survey," which was based in part on the questionnaire Landrum and colleagues (2000) used in their study. We used the Campus Diversity Survey to investigate the attitudes of racial/ethnic minority deaf college students and Caucasian deaf college students toward a variety of issues related to racial/ethnic diversity, including educational satisfaction, campus comfort level, campus climate, availability of role models, and the perceived academic preparedness of students.

Method

Participants

About 1,200 deaf college students attend the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), sharing the campus with about 10,000 hearing college students. To receive an associate's degree, deaf students can take classes at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), where faculty use both sign language and speech to teach. To get a bachelor's or master's degree, deaf students must cross-register to take classes at other colleges of RIT, where they are supported as appropriate by interpreting services, captioning services, and tutor/note-taking services. …