Dorm-Room Diversity Can Promote Tolerance

Roommates of different races benefit in surprising ways, new research shows.

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Colleges often pair randomly assigned roommates based on sleeping or study habits, but recent research conducted at Ohio State and other universities across the country found that putting together roommates of different races can reduce prejudice, diversify friendships, and even enhance black students' academic performance, the New York Times reports.

Russell Fazio, a psychology professor at Ohio State, has studied interracial roommates there and at Indiana University. When Fazio analyzed data on thousands of Ohio State freshmen living on campus, he found black freshmen who entered college with high standardized test scores earned better grades if they shared a room with white students, even if the white student's test scores were low.

Fazio also found that randomly assigned interracial roommates at Ohio State split up about twice as often as roommates of the same race. However, if students stuck it out with their room assignment for even 10 weeks longer than the date they placed a request for a new roommate, the time together helped students improve their racial attitudes.

"Just having diversity in classrooms doesn't do anything to increase interracial friendships," says Claudia Buchmann, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State and an author of studies similar to Fazio's. "But the intimacy of living together in residence halls, with no roommate, or a different-race roommate, does lead to more interracial friendships."

Buchmann added that the lack of racial tolerance on campuses where students of different races don't typically live together does not surprise her because minority students in majority-white environments often seek out one another for support. "There are organizations on campus specifically designed to help minority students, and oftentimes minority students try to find their friends through those groups," says Ellen Speicher, an Ohio State resident adviser who is white and a rising junior. "It makes sense."