Does Diversity Make a Difference? A Research Report

Academe, September/October 2000 | Go to article overview

Does Diversity Make a Difference? A Research Report


Diversity matters, but how? In order to answer that question and provide evidence to support affirmative action, the AAUP joined the American Council on Education in sponsoring a research project on the impact of diversity in higher education. Because of the importance of that study, Academe is reprinting the summary of its results below.

The findings outlined below are based on (a) analyses of data from more than 570 faculty members (out of a random sample of 1,210) using the Faculty Classroom Diversity Questionnaire, the first comprehensive survey ever conducted of the attitudes toward and experiences with racial and ethnic diversity of faculty members at America's leading research universities; (b) analyses of data from a similar survey of 82 faculty members at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota; and (c) an indepth, qualitative, multiple-case study of three interactive multiracial or multiethnic classrooms at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Upward of two-thirds of faculty members surveyed believe that their universities value racial and ethnic diversity.

In assessing how important student diversity is to their university's mission, 69 percent of faculty respondents to the Faculty Classroom Diversity Questionnaire rated having a diverse student body either 4 or 5 on a scale from 1 ("not important or irrelevant") to 5 ("extremely important"). Similarly, 70 percent of respondents agreed strongly that their university is committed to enhancing the climate for all students, and 75 percent agreed strongly that their university values extracurricular activities that promote cultural awareness. In all instances, fewer than 13 percent of faculty members said that these values are of little or no importance to their institutions.

More than 90 percent of faculty members indicated that neither the quality of students nor the intellectual substance of class discussion suffers from diversity.

Only 9 percent of faculty respondents agreed strongly or agreed somewhat with the statement that their institution's focus on diversity had lowered the quality of their students, and just 6 percent agreed strongly or somewhat that diversity had lowered the quality of their institution. Barely 2 percent said that diversity in the classroom impeded discussion of substantive issues.

Faculty members said that diversity helps all students achieve the essential goals of a college education, that positive benefits accrue from diversity in the classroom, and that white students experience no adverse effects from classroom diversity.

More than two-thirds of faculty respondents said that students benefit from learning in a racially and ethnically diverse environment, both with respect to exposure to new perspectives and in terms of willingness to examine their own personal perspectives. More than 40 percent of faculty members also said that diversity provides interactions important for developing critical thinking and leadership skills. A great many faculty members said that diversity reshapes the issues white students consider, alters the way in which they read class material, influences the subjects they choose for research and class projects, and affects how they collaborate in class. Fewer than 5 percent of faculty members believe that racial and ethnic diversity in classes had any adverse effect on white students.

The vast majority of faculty members reported that student diversity did not lead them to make significant changes in their classroom practices.

Slightly less than one-third of faculty respondents said that the presence of racially diverse students led them to adjust their course syllabus, and approximately one-quarter of them said that they changed their teaching methods to encourage discussion in their classes. Only about 20 percent of teachers reported developing new courses in response to a diverse student population, and roughly the same percentage reported reexamining the criteria they used for evaluating

students. …

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