Perhaps self-identification and surveys tell us little about behavior but at least it can provide a clue, according to a new social psychology paper which finds that people who truly place a higher value on diversity - and not just check off the right boxes on surveys because they think they are supposed to - are more likely to have friends of different races, religions and sociopolitical views.
Diversity has become an institutional buzzword on college campuses - so much so it has led to Supreme Court judgments against them because they penalize some demographics to create artificial diversity. In most institutional diversity policies and research studies, diversity is associated primarily with race and ethnicity, and everyone claims it must be fixed, while broader diversity is ignored. That Republicans and handicapped people can't get tenure after academia shifted hard to the left gets little attention.
The new work led by Wellesley College social psychologist Angela Bahns employs, the authors say, a broad conception of diversity in order to highlight "how celebrating differences of many kinds can promote the formation of diverse relationships." According to Bahns, "Encouraging dialogue among people of differing backgrounds and beliefs can reduce prejudice and lead to a greater appreciation of diversity."
Wellesley College, a liberal arts college for women, has been criticized for anti-Semitism and autocratic name-calling of anyone who disagrees with their more militant student membership, so it may be prescient that they are seeking more knowledge of true diversity. The conclusion the authors reach is that real diversity is achieved when there are actual positive beliefs about diversity, and not simply a desire to force everyone to be like us.
So diversity is not vilifying everyone who does not share our beliefs about birth control, gay marriage or cross-dressing.
Individual attitudes and beliefs about diversity were measured by questionnaires distributed to pairs of friends in two neighborhoods of Boston, Jamaica Plain and the North End. The two communities were chosen for their high and low degrees of racial and income diversity, respectively. Although participants in the more diverse Jamaica Plain on average valued diversity more highly, participants in both neighborhoods who recognized the benefits of diversity were more likely to have diverse friendships.
Previous studies have shown that racially diverse communities are more likely to foster interracial friendships while surveys about interracial beliefs mean little. Vermont is 95% white and 1% black and claims to be tolerant about interracial marriage on surveys but Vermont is last in the United States in actual interracial marriage. Instead, actual larger and diverse communities, like states, are more likely to foster attitudinally similar relationships because it becomes easier to select similar friends when one has access to many different social choices. Thus, Vermont can feel tolerant without actually knowing any minorities, the same way university academics can claim they don't penalize political minorities because they know of one with tenure.
A large body of research suggests that, in general, people tend to make friends with those who are similar to themselves in upbringing and beliefs, so lack of diversity is actually the norm. That means that intolerant Wellesley students are fitting in to the culture they want. But it will be easy to tell the faux tolerant from the truly diverse by the people they hang around.
Bahns' study helps to clarify seemingly contradictory findings by suggesting that diverse communities offer greater opportunity to seek either similar or diverse friends. Importantly, the study implies that individual differences in valuing diversity may influence a person's tendency to seek similar friends.
Citation: Angela J. Bahns, Lauren S. Springer, Carla The, 'Fostering diverse friendships: The role of beliefs about the value of diversity', Group Processes&Intergroup Relations 1368430214566893, March 27, 2015 as doi:10.1177/1368430214566893
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