LOS ANGELES — Diversity in secondary schooling has some tangible benefits, with students of any background feeling safer and less lonely than they might at a less diverse campus, a new study finds.
Researchers at UCLA examined over 4,300 sixth graders from urban middle schools across California, most of whom were middle class or from impoverished backgrounds.
Of the 26 schools studied, six had a student body in which there was no one group with a racial majority; nine had student bodies primarily comprised of two ethnic or racial groups; and the remaining 11 had a single racial group that represented a majority of students.
Each student examined was asked by the researchers to rate how fairly they felt they and their peers were treated on campus.
The survey administered to students was weighted on a five-point scale, in which they were instructed to rate the extent to which they felt bullied or lonely at school, their relations to students of different backgrounds, and whether they felt teachers treated all students in an equitable manner.
Overall, students felt safer and more included in schools where there was more racial diversity.
“When ethnic groups are of relatively equal size, there may be more of a balance of power,” says Jaana Juvonen, a UCLA professor of psychology and the research’s lead author, in a university news release. “One or more large ethnic groups will be less likely to exert their influence over one or more small ethnic groups.”
There was an important catch, however.
Students only reaped the rewards of inclusion if their classrooms demonstrated the same level of diversity as the entire school.
“School diversity by itself is only half of the story,” acknowledges Sandra Graham, the study’s co-author. “To reap the social benefits of ethnic diversity, instruction needs to be organized so that students’ classes reflect the overall diversity of their school.”
Other benefits of racial and ethnic diversity in schools include exposure to different viewpoints and more tolerance for different cultures.
Since students who have more positive interactions in school tend to fare better academically, the researchers recommend that schools find ways to promote diversity and inclusion.
“It is in everybody’s interest for K-12 schools and classrooms to be more racially diverse,” Graham declares.
The study’s findings were published in the journal Child Development.