Racial attitudes of incoming freshmen compiled in new survey

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KALAMAZOO—A newly released survey of the racial and ethnic attitudes of incoming Western Michigan University freshmen shows students have overall positive attitudes about diversity but little previous experience in diverse settings.

WMU's first survey documenting the views of freshmen was conducted by the University's Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations. It is available online at wmich.edu/walkerinstitute. The major findings of the inaugural survey include:

  • White students reported less experience with diversity than students of color.
  • Students of color are more likely to report being treated unfairly because of race or ethnicity than white students.
  • About half of all students reported having felt insulted or threatened by someone of another race at least occasionally.
  • Three quarters of all students reported at least once having had a meaningful conversation about race with someone from another group.
  • Three in ten students expressed agreement with the idea that discrimination against blacks and Hispanics has been eliminated, while 37 percent disagreed.
  • An overwhelming majority of students of all groups believed that "most people" confer high status on whites and lower status on other ethnic groups.
  • More than half of students from all groups reported having studied diversity-related topics while in high school.

"We found students were coming here hopeful and optimistic, but with not much experience on diversity issues," says Dr. Timothy Ready, director of the Walker Institute. "Their positive attitudes about race and ethnic diversity offer a great opportunity for the University to focus on activities that help increase students' knowledge and appreciation of diversity as well as their ability to thrive as professionals in our increasingly diverse communities."

The survey of 2,146 students was taken during WMU's freshman orientation sessions in 2011 and is designed to be the first of two major surveys of the same students.  The second survey will be administered before the class graduates, allowing researchers to document any changes in attitudes over the students' years at the University.