Friday, September 27, 2019

Deborah Rivas-Drake and Michael Medina ask “how diverse are your friends?”


Deborah Rivas-Drake, a professor in the Combined Program in Education and Psychology, co-wrote an article in Psychology Today with CPEP doctoral student Michael Medina and Daisy Camacho-Thompson of California State University.

In “How diverse are your friends?,” the authors explain that the increasing diversity across the nation is not reflected in schools. “American school districts are more segregated in recent history than they were some years after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision,” they wrote, adding that the gaps are widening as more and more students are attending schools with demographics that do not represent the multicultural facets of our country. One example of this phenomenon can be found by examining the student population of the nation’s five largest central city school districts (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and Houston). They students are at least 85% non-White.

Youth exposure to diversity also varies by race. For instance, only 5% of White students are ever a numerical minority in their school, whereas 69% of Asian American children are numerical minorities in their school. The percentages are 30% and 22% for African American and Latinx children, respectively. This results in less opportunity for white students to experience a diverse classroom setting.

Researchers insist that the benefits of diversity are many. One UCLA study showed that students in diverse schools felt safer, less victimized, less lonely, and that their teachers were fair and equitable to all groups. Another study showed that students in diverse schools tend to earn higher test scores, are more likely to graduate, and are more likely to attend college.

Rivas-Drake and her co-authors suggested that the benefits of diversity diminish when classrooms are not diverse, even if their schools are diverse. “Therefore, to truly benefit from diversity, schools should provide access to peers in the school, such as in classrooms and organized after-school activities, in order to facilitate the formation of diverse friendships,” they said.

Deborah Rivas-Drake is Professor, School of Education; Professor, Department of Psychology, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

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