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Release: Aug. 25, 1999

Black students' growth in openness to diversity uninhibited by attendance at HBCUs

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Attendance at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) does not negatively influence growth in openness to diversity for black students, according to a study conducted by two University of Iowa researchers.

Researchers Lamont Flowers, a higher education doctoral student at the UI's College of Education, and Ernest T. Pascarella, higher education professor in the college, set out to estimate the unique impact of college racial composition on black students' openness to diversity during college. Their findings were published in the July/August issue of the Journal of College Student Development.

"If racial, cultural and value diversity are destined to become a central part of American society in the 21st century, then openness to diversity is an important goal of post-secondary education for all students," the researchers wrote about the study, which opens further discussion about HBCUs' utility.

The three-year longitudinal study, which began in 1992, examined various factors such as students' pre-college openness to diversity, pre-college academic ability, socioeconomic status, and academic motivation, making its approach different from previous studies. Flowers says the study is important because previous studies have focused on the educational and psychological benefits for black students at HBCUs. Little is known about the influence of college racial composition on black students' social attitudes such as openness to diversity.

The researchers' findings are contrary to previous studies that have suggested the more heterogeneous a college campus, the more open students were to diversity. Flowers says the study has other important findings: growth in black students' openness to diversity appears to be sensitive to the perceived racial environment of the institution attended; and peer influence plays a significant and positive role in engendering growth and change during black students' college years.

The researchers also found that intercollegiate athletic participation enhances openness to diversity among black students.

"Intercollegiate athletics may be another area of campus life where one is likely to interact and work cooperatively with students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The result may be a greater respect for, and openness to racial or ethnic diversity and the cultural and value differences that may accompany it," the researchers wrote about the study.

"What this study suggests to student development professionals is 'Regardless of pre-college factors, the type of institution attended, or students' academic or non-academic experiences in college, if a black student perceives a non-discriminatory environment, they are likely to be more open to diversity,'" Flowers says.

None of the 18 institutions -- which includes two HBCUs -- participating in the study can be named, Flowers says, adding the schools are located in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic states, South, East and West Coasts.

The analyses are based on 402 black students in the study's first year; the students' mean age was 22 and was made up of 257 women and 145 men. In year two, 255 black students with a mean age of 22 made up of 158 women and 97 men; in year three, 167 black students with a mean age of 20 made up of 105 women and 62 men.