Posted by: rcieri | November 15, 2009

Study finds interracial roommate pairings lower campus bias

August 31, 2009

By Rachel Cieri

Most kids were raised to learn that racial issues are not fit for dinner conversation. But it is not unusual to encounter this taboo subject in the most intimate aspect of college life: roommates.

According to Director of the Multicultural Center Leon Williams, moving into a room with someone of another race can be a shock that puts up a wall in the roommate relationship.

“From personal experience, I can say that there is the potential to open up a dialogue and be good roommates, but if you don’t get to that point, the stereotypes and your past experiences can get in the way,” Williams said.

A study by Ohio State psychology professor Russell Fazio unearthed a few surprising results. Randomly assigned interracial roommates, the study found, were more likely to change rooms than same-race roommates in the same situation.

The study also found that first-year black students paired with white roommates tended to have better grade point averages than those in same-race room assignments.

The suggested explanation for this trend is the black students’ desire to dispel stereotypes, but Williams thinks that it’s not the case at Elon.

“Here at Elon, there is already a different academic motivation, so race does not come into play that way,” he said.

Williams said incoming multicultural students had an average GPA of above 3.7 and SAT scores above 1600, which he said means their academic motivation comes from elsewhere.

More than 70 percent of Elon’s student body comes from out of state, a factor that Williams thinks helps dispel campus bias. Popular hometowns like New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta bring in students with more diverse experiences and backgrounds.

Williams, who went to Ohio Northern University, said he and his freshman roommate eventually learned that their upbringings had given them different perspectives. He said his undergraduate experience was in a different time and that, at Elon, he has not heard students complain about a roommate of another race.

Students have expressed concern, though, about their experiences in the classroom.

“Multicultural students have a different motivation for being articulate,” Williams said. “Everyone goes through that anxiety when it comes to being engaged in the classroom, but it’s on a deeper level for a diverse student.”

He explained that minority and international students, especially those for whom English is not a first language, fear falling into the stereotype of being inarticulate. They tend to put much more thought into class participation because they don’t want classmates and professors to think they are unintelligent because of the way they speak.

Williams said the way to overcome campus bias is through introspection from each individual.

“It comes from recognizing that we all have prejudice inside us,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process, not something that’s going to happen in a day or a week.”

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