How do Diverse and Inclusive Learning Environments Benefit Students?
Much of the available research on diversity and inclusion examines the impact of racial diversity on students’ educational outcomes but as noted above most institutions such as the UA have a much broader definition of diversity that is inclusive of, but not limited to, race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, gender expression, disability, nationality, language, religion, and socio-background (AAC&U, 2009). Clearly, more research is needed to verify the outcomes of inclusive programs based on the broader definition but there is value in reviewing these findings because racial and ethnic issues continue to be very important and research findings in this area clearly have relevance to other diversity issues.
The following information is reproduced and adapted with permission from WISELI, the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is based on the following publication: Eve Fine, Benefits and Challenges of Diversity (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004).
- Diversity has a positive impact on all students.
Numerous research studies examining the impact of diversity on students and educational outcomes have produced extensive evidence that diversity has a positive impact on all students, minority and majority (Smith et al., 1997). Some examples are:
- Diversity has positive effects on students’ cognitive development, satisfaction with the college experience, and leadership abilities.
A large national longitudinal study involving 25,000 undergraduates attending 217 four-year colleges and universities showed that institutional policies emphasizing diversity of the campus community, inclusion of themes relating to diversity in faculty research and teaching, and opportunities for students to confront racial and multicultural issues in the classroom and in extracurricular settings had uniformly positive effects on students’ cognitive development, satisfaction with the college experience, and leadership abilities (Astin, 1993).
- Students who interact with racially and ethnically diverse peers show greater intellectual growth and academic skills.
An analysis of two longitudinal studies [of over 15,000 students] showed that students who interacted with racially and ethnically diverse peers both informally and within the classroom showed the greatest “engagement in active thinking, growth in intellectual engagement and motivation, and growth in intellectual and academic skills” (Gurin, 1999; 2002).
- Both in-class and out-of-class interactions and involvement with diverse peers foster critical thinking.
Another major study showed both in-class and out-of-class interactions and involvement with diverse peers fostered critical thinking. This study also showed a strong correlation between the extent to which an institution’s environment is perceived as racially nondiscriminatory” and students’ willingness to accept both diversity and intellectual challenge (Pascarella et al., 1996).
- Many faculty members believe students benefit from diverse environments in many ways.
A comprehensive survey of faculty attitudes (Maruyama and Moreno, 2000) found that faculty members believe all students benefited from learning in racially and ethnically diverse environments; [diverse] environments exposed students to new perspectives and encouraged them to examine their own perspectives; and diversity fostered interactions that helped develop critical thinking and leadership skills.
Using the “Faculty Classroom Diversity Questionnaire,” a comprehensive survey of faculty attitudes toward and experiences with ethnic and racial diversity on campus, researchers found that more than 69 percent of approximately 500 faculty respondents in a randomly selected sample of 1,210 faculty from Carnegie Classified Research I institutions believed that all students benefited from learning in racially and ethnically diverse environments; that such environments exposed students to new perspectives and encouraged them to examine their own perspectives. More than 40 percent of respondents believed diversity fostered interactions that helped develop critical thinking and leadership skills (Maruyama and Moreno, 2000). Another survey found that more than 90% of 55,000 faculty respondents believed that a racially and ethnically diverse campus enhanced students’ educational experiences (Milem and Hakuta, 2000).
- Women faculty are important in fostering education and success of women graduate students.
A survey of 1,215 faculty in doctoral-granting departments of computer science, chemistry, electrical engineering, microbiology, and physics showed that women faculty play an important role in fostering the education and success of women graduate students (Fox, 2003).
The material above was reproduced and adapted with permission from WISELI, the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is based on the following publication: Eve Fine, Benefits and Challenges of Diversity (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004). To review the entire document visit http://wiseli.engr.wisc.edu/docs/Benefits_Challenges.pdf.
In More Detail
More specific research findings about the academic benefits of diversity include . . .
- Graduates of four private, highly selective research universities who had substantial interracial interaction, reported higher levels of development in all areas under consideration, including the following (Luo & Jamieson-Drake, 2009):
- developing an awareness of social problems;
- relating well to people of different races, nations, or religions;
- acquiring new skills and knowledge independently;
- formulating creative or original ideas or solutions;
- understanding the role of science and technology in society;
- using computers; and
- gaining in-depth knowledge of a field. (p. 78) [formatting added]
- Additional findings from this study include (Luo & Jamieson-Drake, 2009):
- Graduates with substantial interracial interaction indicated significantly higher total gains from college experience and overall satisfaction.
- Interracial interaction was positively associated with leadership skills, science literacy, intellectual development, and total gains overall.
- significantly higher total gains from college experience and overall satisfaction;
- leadership skills, science literacy, and intellectual development; and
- higher levels of development in appreciating the arts and identifying moral and ethical issues (this was reported by students in the 1995 and 2000 cohorts).