Institutions that focus exclusively on the numeric or proportional representation of URM students on campus, have, in many cases, found that insufficient attention to other dimensions of the campus climate for diversity may pose challenges to the effective integration and retention of URM students. Greater proportions of URM students can cause conflict and resistance among students and faculty if the institution does not anticipate and take steps toward maximizing cross-racial interactions and facilitating discussions about diversity (Milem, Dey, and White, this volume). Training and educational programs, for example, to better inform students and faculty of the value of diversity in the institution can help to facilitate positive diversity interactions, while cultural exchanges and workshops may assist diverse students as they attempt to integrate into the campus environment. Attention to the structural dimensions of diversity is therefore important, but only as an initial step towards comprehensive diversity efforts (Chang, 2001).
A growing body of research demonstrates that college students, of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, benefit from interaction with a diverse group of college student peers (see also discussion in Chapter 1). This research indicates that it is not merely the case that the presence of diverse students on campus fosters richer learning experiences. Research also indicates that student learning experiences are enhanced in proportion to the frequency and quality of students’ informal interactions across racial and ethnic lines. These informal interactions, along with the discussion of racial/ethnic issues in classroom settings, confer benefits for students’ academic development, as well as for their civic and community orientation. While the majority of this research has been conducted with undergraduate students, many of the principles regarding diversity’s benefits extend to health professions training settings (Tedesco, 2001), as will be discussed below.
Gurin et al. (2002), in seminal research that formed the core of the social science evidence base cited by the University of Michigan in its Supreme Court defense, utilized longitudinal data from two student surveys (a survey conducted at the University of Michigan and a national survey of student collegiate experiences) to assess whether students’ diversity experiences as undergraduates were related to their “learning outcomes” (defined as the use of active thinking, intellectual engagement and motivation, and academic skills) and “democracy outcomes” (i.e., citizenship engagement, belief in the compatibility of group differences and democracy, the ability to take the perspective of others, and cultural awareness and engagement). Over 11,000 white, African American, Asian American, and Latino students were among the national sample, while the Michigan sample included