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Reducing prejudice on campus: the role of intergroup contact in diversity education.

This study examines the role of contact with diverse groups on prejudice levels of 284 college students at three midwestern colleges. The effect of Amir's five contact factors was studied in relation to students' generalized prejudice as well as prejudice toward people who differ from them in race, sex, and sexual orientation. Results show the reduction of general and specific prejudice was significantly associated with contact that occurs between equals, and contact that is interpersonal, cooperative, rewarding, and positively sanctioned by students' institutions and social networks. The article discusses implications for diversity programs and provides institutional strategies for creating meaningful diversity education on college campuses.


Colleges increasingly are addressing issues of diversity as students of different backgrounds face challenges of interacting across factors of gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation on campus. If colleges are to retain students, enhance their social integration, and educate them to function in a diverse society, then they must develop and implement effective diversity education programs.

An understanding of the nature of prejudice can assist those who wish to develop campus diversity programs. Prejudice between students of different backgrounds can contribute to diversity problems on campus. A major factor contributing to prejudice is whether groups have had contact with each other in the formation of their attitudes. For many students, college presents the first opportunity for ongoing contact with people who differ from them in race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. All-port's (1954) pioneering theoretical work on prejudice claimed that prejudice could be lessened by intergroup contact. This contact hypothesis predicted that contact with people from groups dissimilar to oneself could lessen negative attitudes toward the other group. It is based on attraction theory that claims that contact between members of different groups allows individuals to discover that they have similar attitudes and values. This discovery leads to mutual understanding and liking, and consequently produces more positive attitudes between groups. (Byrne, 1971, Duck 1977; Newcomb, 1961).

The contact hypothesis has evolved over the years to suggest that the nature of the contact and not mere amount of contact leads to an amelioration of prejudice. Amir (1969) listed five contact factors favorable to increasing positive attitudes between groups: 1) Contact should be between people of equal status; 2) Contact should be interpersonal and not casual; 3) Contact should be pleasant / rewarding; 4) One's authorities and social norms should favor intergroup contact; and 5) Both groups should have cooperative goals for the contact. In other words, infrequent, role-related, hierarchical, or casual contact between diverse people may not lessen prejudice or promote an appreciation for differences. Contact that fosters competition between diverse groups or contact that is discouraged by one's social networks may not reduce prejudice or promote an appreciation for diversity. Thus, it appears that some kinds of intergroup contact promote appreciation of diversity while other kinds hinder it.

While the relationship of some of these factors to the reduction of prejudice has been demonstrated by research, no study has simultaneously investigated all five of these factors among college students. This study seeks to test the effect of these five contact factors on college students' generalized prejudice and attitudes toward others based on race, sex, and sexual orientation. Specifically, this study proposes the following hypotheses:

H1: Students who have equal status contact with individuals who are different from them will have less generalized prejudice and more positive attitudes toward others who differ from them in race, sex, and sexual orientation.

H2: Students who have interpersonal contact with individuals who are different from them will have less generalized prejudice and more positive attitudes toward others who differ from them in race, sex, and sexual orientation.

H3: Students who have rewarding contact with individuals who are different from them will have less generalized prejudice and more favorable attitudes toward others who differ from them in race, sex, and sexual orientation.

H4: Students whose institutions and social networks promote their contact with individuals who are different from them will have less generalized prejudice and more favorable attitudes toward others who differ from them in race, sex, and sexual orientation.

H5: Students who have cooperative contact with individuals who are different from them will have less generalized prejudice and more favorable attitudes toward others who differ from them in race, sex, and sexual orientation.


Subjects and procedures

A convenience sample of 284 respondents was obtained from the student body at three colleges in a major midwestern metropolitan area. All participation was voluntary. Ninety-four percent of respondents were between the ages of 25-34. Ninety-eight percent of respondents were heterosexual. The sample was evenly divided between male and female respondents. The racial composition of the sample was: 82% Caucasian, 9% African American 4% Asian/Pacific Islander, 2% Hispanic, and 3% other.


The author created an instrument with 45 Likert items (5-point) to measure generalized prejudice, attitudes toward others based on race, sex, and sexual orientation, and the five factors of contact among students who differ with each other in race, sex, and sexual orientation. The questions of general and specific prejudice were based on Qualls, Cox and Schehr's (1992) measure of prejudice on college campuses. The questions on the nature of contact were based on Amir's (1969) five factors of contact.

To test the reliability of this instrument, reliability coefficients were calculated for the sub factors of intergroup contact and for the aspects of prejudice. This produced internal consistency reliability coefficients (Cronbach's alpha) of .77 for equal status contact, .56 for interpersonal contact, .67 for rewarding contact, .49 for institutional support of contact, and .62 for cooperative contact. This study obtained internal consistency reliability coefficients (Cronbach's alpha) of .74 for the sub factor of generalized prejudice, .60 for prejudice based on race, .59 for prejudice based on sex, and .78 for prejudice based on sexual orientation. These coefficients were considered acceptable levels of internal consistency.

Data Analysis

To analyze the data, Pearson product moment correlations were calculated between each sub factor of intergroup contact and each sub factor of prejudice, resulting in 20 separate correlations.


All correlations between sub factors of contact and sub factors of prejudice produced correlations significant at the .01 level. Thus, all hypotheses were confirmed.

See Table 1.

Mere contact between demographically diverse college students is not sufficient to reduce prejudice and develop an appreciation for diversity. This empirical study found that Amir's five factors of intergroup contact did correlate significantly with reductions in prejudice among college students. The reduction of generalized prejudice as well as prejudice based on race, sex, and sexual orientation was significantly associated with contact between equals, interpersonal contact, cooperative contact, rewarding contact, and contact sanctioned by the institutions and social networks of which the students were a part.

These findings have implications for the strategies that colleges use to promote diversity on their campuses. Some common institutional strategies such as racial or sex-based balance of enrollments, policy statements, and one-time programs that promote diversity are insufficient and perhaps detrimental to diversity objectives. For students who interact solely on the basis of role-related behaviors or are placed together in competitive situations, or who perceive inequalities between themselves and others, intergroup contact may actually exacerbate prejudice. Colleges must couple institutional support for diversity with opportunities for different students to interact in cooperative tasks and to form meaningful and rewarding relationships with each other. Such efforts must go beyond initial orientation activities. Whether it is through ongoing student activities and organizations or through regular classroom-based collaborative work, colleges must structure the contact so that students of different races, sexes, and sexual orientations develop positive attitudes toward individuals from these groups and respect for these groups generally.

Indeed, literature does call for colleges and universities to encourage interaction among members of various ethnic groups on campus (Talbot, Geelhoed, & Ninggal, 1999) and to structure intercultural experiences among students as a vehicle for promoting diversity and intercultural communication competence (Gross, 1997). For those students who have not had previous contact with diversity, interaction with people across demographic differences does not happen naturally.

Institutional Strategies for Promoting Diversity

There are many proactive strategies for creating meaningful contact across students' diverse identities. Mohr and Sedlacek (2000) call for campuses to use multiple types of interventions to address barriers to intergroup relations. Faculty can assign students from different backgrounds to work together on group projects in courses. The International Student Services Office can provide incentives for specific ethnic minority student organizations to sponsor collaborative activities with other ethnic organizations. Universities could pair students from different ethnic groups or races as roommates. Service learning activities could be structured to enhance students' opportunities to work closely for extended periods of time with people different from themselves. Advisors, tutors and mentors could be assigned to students based on heterogeneous pairings with regard to sex, race, or sexual orientation. (See Woodard & Sims, 2000). University leaders should encourage diversity in the formation of student project teams related to campus improvement, student governance, community building, or philanthropic efforts. A unique big brother / big sister program could be instituted with pairings based on diversity factors rather than on commonalities. Global study experiences should be expanded, expected for all students, and subsidized for lower-income students. Exchange programs could be developed between historically black and predominantly white institutions and between urban and rural campuses.

This study did not measure the effect of actual contact with diverse groups on the level of prejudice toward that group. Rather, college students reported their amount of contact with individuals who differed in race, sex, and sexual orientation. Our understanding of the role of contact factors on prejudice would be advanced by subsequent studies which test the effects of an actual contact experience based on the five elements of contact. Pretest measures of general and specific prejudice could be compared to posttest measures after students participate in intergroup experiences where contact is interpersonal, rewarding, between equals, cooperative and sanctioned. It would also be useful for colleges and universities to share best practices of intervention strategies that promote meaningful and sustained intergroup contact.

By continuing to investigate the factors that lessen prejudice on college campuses and to create opportunities for meaningful contact across student differences, we can contribute to the creation of a welcoming climate for diversity in higher education. Providing opportunities for sustained relationships among diverse types of students is necessary for the educational development of today's college students.


Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Amir, Y. (1969). Contact hypothesis in ethnic relations. Psychological Bulletin, 71, 319-342.

Byrne, D. (1971). The attraction paradigm. New York: Academic Press.

Duck, S. W. (ed.) (1977). Theory and practice in interpersonal attraction. London: Academic Press.

Gross, B. (1997). Intercultural communication competence: A strategy for a multicultural campus. In L. B. Welch, B. J. Cleckley, and M. McClure (eds.) (pp. 21-30). Strategies for promoting pluralism in education and the workplace. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Mohr, J. J. and Sedlacek, W. E. (2000). Perceived barriers to friendship with lesbians and gay men among university students. Journal of College Student Development, 41(1), 70-80.

Newcomb, T. M. (1961). The acquaintance process. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Qualls, R. C., Cox, M. B., and Schehr, T. L. (1992). Racial attitudes on campus: Are there gender differences? Journal of College Student Development, 33, 524-530.

Talbot, D. M., Geelhoes, R. J., and Ninggal, M. J. H. (1999). A qualitative study of Asian international students' attitudes toward African Americans. NASPA Journal 36 (3), 210-221.

Woodard, V. S. and Sims, J. M. (2000). Programmatic approaches to improving campus climate. NASPA Journal 37(4), 539-552.


University of Cincinnati

* Department of Communication, Mail location 0184, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH 45221, (513) 556-4455.
Table 1
Intercorrelation Matrix *
                  General      Race        Sex        Orientation
Factor           Prejudice   Prejudice   Prejudice    Prejudice

Equal status       .397        .510        .529         .472

Interpersonal      .517        .441        .312         .337

Rewarding          .487        .398        .401         .527

Contact            .483        .303        .193         .160

Cooperative        .544        .496        .292         .234

* All correlations are significant at .01 level
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Article Details
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Author:Berryman-Fink, Cynthia
Publication:College Student Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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