Beyond the numbers: Institutional influences on experiences with diversity on elite college campuses

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In this article we bring together the burgeoning qualitative literature on the socializing influence of residential colleges, the survey-based literature on campus racial climate, and the literature on diversity work in organizations to analyze how two elite universities' approaches to diversity shape students' experiences with and feelings about diversity. We employ 77 in-depth interviews with undergraduates at two elite universities. While the universities appear comparable on measures of student demographics and overall diversity infrastructure, they take different approaches. These varying approaches lead to important differences in student perspectives. At the university that takes a power analysis and minority support approach, students who participate in minority-oriented activities develop a critical race theory perspective, while their white and nonparticipating minority peers frequently feel alienated from that programming. At the university that takes an integration and celebration approach, most students embrace a cosmopolitan perspective, celebrating diversity while paying less attention to power and resource differences between racial groups. The findings suggest that higher education institutions can influence the race frames of students as well as their approaches to multiculturalism, with implications for their views on a variety of important diversity-related issues on campus and beyond.

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Sociological Forum

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