Di­ver­sity expands stu­dents’ com­fort zones

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - YOUTH -

LOS AN­GE­LES — Cal­i­for­nia sixth-graders who at­tend ra­cially di­verse schools feel safer, less lonely and less picked on than their peers at more homogenous schools, ac­cord­ing to a new study out of Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les. But it’s not enough for di­ver­sity to ex­ist on cam­pus, ac­cord­ing to the study, pub­lished in the jour­nal Child De­vel­op­ment.

In some schools where the over­all stu­dent pop­u­la­tion was di­verse, stu­dents’ classes did not re­flect the school as a whole. In those schools, stu­dents of all races had less con- fi­dence that teach­ers treat ev­ery­one fairly, and were less likely to say they would eat lunch, dance with, sit on the bus next to or visit the home of some­one of a dif­fer­ent race.

“When kids have less racial ex­po­sure in their classes than the di­ver­sity in the school … they’re less likely to cross that racial bound­ary,” says UCLA ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sor San­dra Gra­ham, the study’s co-au­thor.

The study is based on sur­veys from about 4,300 six­th­grade stu­dents in public ur­ban schools in North­ern and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. A “di­verse” school is de­fined as one that has a rel­a­tively equal num­ber of stu­dents in each of sev­eral racial groups. That stu­dent body makeup may cre­ate a bal­ance of power.

“In a state like Cal­i­for­nia, the pop­u­la­tion’s be­com­ing a lot more ra­cially and eth­ni­cally di­verse,” Gra­ham says. “All kids are go­ing to have to learn to live in a di­verse world. … So the schools have an im­por­tant role to play.”

Other stud­ies have ex­am­ined the ef­fects of di­ver­sity on aca­demic achieve­ment. But fo­cus­ing on the emo­tional ef­fects on chil­dren is im­por­tant be­cause their state of mind af­fects their abil­ity to learn, the study’s au­thors say.

En­vi­ron­ments where a stu­dent feels vul­ner­a­ble “are not the ideal cir­cum­stances to learn”, says study co-au­thor and UCLA psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor Jaana Ju­vo­nen. “If you’re afraid in school, you’re not even go­ing to raise your hand in class.”

It’s im­por­tant that schools try to make sure their stu­dents from dif­fer­ent back­grounds in­ter­act with one another, Gra­ham says. Though the study did not un­cover the rea- sons for seg­re­ga­tion within a di­verse school, poli­cies that sep­a­rate stu­dents based on per­ceived abil­ity tend to iso­late black and Latino stu­dents from white and Asian ones, and ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties also of­ten break along racial lines, Gra­ham says.

The study fo­cused on stu­dents who iden­ti­fied as white, Asian, black or Latino — sub­se­quent ones will pay more at­ten­tion to the ex­pe­ri­ences of mul­tira­cial stu­dents, Ju­vo­nen says.

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