interracial roommates

I just read this New York Times article by Tamar Lewin on the benefits of having a college roommate of a different race.  I’m not at all surprised that are some pros to this situation.  I was surprised by the admission here that campuses have been intentionally segregating students.  The piece makes it clear, but without judgement.  I find it appalling. I would LOVE to make Ohio State out to be the bad guy here, but this practice became apparent to me at my orientation for the University of Michigan which was only attended by incoming minorities, and even more clear when I was placed in an unofficial black dorm on a different campus from all of my classes and all of my friends from high school that were Going Blue.  You see, if having a roommate of a different race reduces racial prejudices, we could be so much farther along in eradicating these race issues if the schools hadn’t been keeping people apart.

michigan-wolverines

Interracial Roommates Can Reduce Prejudice

As a freshman at Ohio State University, and the only black student on his floor, Sam Boakye was determined to get good grades — in part to make sure his white roommate had no basis for negative racial views.

“If you’re surrounded by whites, you have something to prove,” said Mr. Boakye, now a rising senior who was born in Ghana. “You’re pushed to do better, to challenge the stereotype that black people are not that smart.”

Several recent studies, at Ohio State and elsewhere, have found that having a roommate of a different race can reduce prejudice, diversify friendships and even boost black students’ academic performance. But, the research found, such relationships are more stressful and more likely to break up than same-race pairings.

As universities have grown more diverse, and interracial roommate assignments are more common, social scientists have looked to them as natural field experiments that can provide insights on race relations.

…Several studies have shown that living with a roommate of a different race changes students’ attitudes. One, from the University of California at Los Angeles, generally found decreased prejudice among students with different-race roommates — but those who roomed with Asian-Americans, the group that scored the highest on measures of prejudice, became more prejudiced themselves.

Professionals who watch over roommate relationships say that interracial roommate assignments are an important part of campus diversity.

…One new study, of Princeton students, used daily questionnaires to monitor roommate interactions and perceptions.

“In the earliest weeks of the relationship, the positive emotions declined for minority students with white roommates,” said Mr. Trail, an author of the study. “It wasn’t that the white students started being mean or negative. Instead, it was a drop-off in positive behaviors, like smiling or making eye contact, that led the minority students to feel worse.”

“Just having diversity in classrooms doesn’t do anything to increase interracial friendships,” said Claudia Buchmann, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State… “But the intimacy of living together in residence halls, with no roommate, or a different-race roommate, does lead to more interracial friendships.”

Minority students in a predominantly white environment, she said, often cocoon themselves by clustering together. Both black and white resident advisers at Ohio State said it was common for black freshmen to seek out other black students.

“There are organizations on campus specifically designed to help minority students, and oftentimes minority students try to find their friends through those groups,” said Ellen Speicher, an Ohio State resident adviser who is white and a rising junior. “It makes sense, on a predominantly white campus.”

Mr. Boakye, a resident adviser for two years. said there was comfort in clustering.

“Being a minority at Ohio State, we try to stay together, to build ourselves as a community,” Mr. Boakye said. “It’s different for white guys.

“A lot of them come here without much exposure to diversity,” he said, “so when their first experience with a black guy isn’t so bad, they go and make more black friends. I think I made a good impression on my freshman roommate. When I saw him this year, he said, ‘Hey dude, you’re not the only black friend I have.’ That felt good.”

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2 thoughts on “interracial roommates

  1. Wow. That’s crazy. Living with Asians makes you more prejudiced?! I can understand what the Ghanaian guy was talking about wanting to make a good impression so that you breakdown stereotypes but I wouldn’t go out of my way to be something I’m not just so that the 1 white person I’m living with doesn’t make sweeping generalizations about black people. It kind of bothers me a little bit that he felt he had to over represent for his race in order to be accepted. Like he had to idk…separate himself as better than the perceived stereotype to win someone over rather than just be himself. I’ve felt that pressure before but I guess I reacted differently.

    Oh and I agree with the comments about diverse classrooms not equaling diverse friendships. Everyone separates and sometimes even sit accordingly in the classrooms and separate just as quickly when class is over.

  2. Thanks for the interesting article Tiff. It is no secret that exposure/interaction melts division and is the only true antidote to racism and prejudice.

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