COUNSELING CENTER

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND

COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND

ATTITUDES OF TOLERANCE FOR DIVERSITY

AMONG UNIVERSITY FRESHMEN

Marie L. Miville, Bekele Molla &

William E. Sedlacek

Research Report #8-91

Data were collected in cooperation with the orientation Office and were analyzed using facilities of the Computer Science Center, both at the University of Maryland, College Park.

COUNSELING CENTER

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND

COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND

ATTITUDES OF TOLERANCE FOR DIVERSITY

AMONG UNIVERSITY FRESHMEN

Marie L. Miville, Bekele Molla, and William E. Sedlacek

Research Report # 8-91

SUMMARY

Attitudes of tolerance for persons from diverse backgrounds were measured from a sample of 132 entering freshmen. These students completed the Cultural Orientation and Awareness Test (COAT), an instrument assessing cognitive and behavioral components of intercultural attitudes. A general level of tolerance for diversity was measured as well through the COAT. Results indicate a fairly high degree of tolerance by these students at a cognitive level, but some amount of ambivalence was demonstrated through behavioral distancing. Thus, while students tended to express positive attitudes toward people from different backgrounds, they did not have much social contact with them. University programs encouraging contact are recommended as a way of decreasing ambivalence that entering freshmen may feel toward people from diverse backgrounds, and promoting the development of positive attitudes that are based on experience.

Institutions of higher education have historically attracted students with diverse cultural backgrounds (Wilson & Melendez, 1986). In recent years, the number of U.S. minority students and international students on predominantly White campuses has gradually increased (Sedlacek, 1987; Boyer & Sedlacek, 1988). While increasing the number of such students is an important development, many administrators have stated that attracting students of different cultural backgrounds is a necessary but insufficient condition to creating a community of diversity. There is the additional need to develop a greater awareness of the barriers to the creation of this community. one possible barrier is in the attitudes of students themselves--their openness and tolerance toward other students from different ethnic groups and sub-cultures.

When individuals with different cultural backgrounds interact in academic and social environments, these interpersonal contacts generate various attitudes and behavioral dynamics. Amir (1969), in his review of research on interracial attitudes, posited the contact hypothesis to describe the potentially positive effect that the environment can have on intercultural relations. In essence, if contact between people of different ethnic or racial groups occurs on an equal status level; is intimate and rewarding; and has the approval of an "authority" (eg., the university), then it is likely that positive attitudes will develop. Positive attitude change may also occur if contact is between different status levels, and a minority person is at the higher status level, as in the case of teacher-student relations.

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Recent studies support these findings. Clore, Bray, Itkin, and Murphy (1978) found significant changes in children's attitudes over time at an interracial summer camp. Cook (1984) observed that Anglo children in classes emphasizing cross-ethnic interactions tended to rate Latino and Anglo children equally. At the university level, it was found that White students who had been taught by an African American teacher were less likely to hold negative attitudes toward African American students (Brooks, Sedlacek, & Mindus, 1973). Molla and Westbrook (1990) also observed that White students who were taught by African American instructors expressed less hostility toward African American students. White students in this study also were found to have more positive attitudes toward Black students if they had had positive experiences with roommates of a different race.

Attitudes toward people of a different culture and the behavioral dynamics surrounding these attitudes are likely to affect a student's (White or minority) overall adjustment to the university climate since they deal directly with an individual's ability to adapt to new surroundings (Astin, 1982). For example, Molla and Westbrook (1990) found that White students who had positive interracial experiences tended to feel more selfconfident about their own achievements and had more positve feelings about the academic environment as a whole than students who did not have positive interracial experiences.

Thus, factors which influence the degree of tolerance of differences may be important for influencing the degree of adjustment and satisfaction that a student attains during his or

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her university experience. Such factors may include general information about other cultures, source of knowledge, amount of contact with people from different cultures (eg., traveling/living in other countries), and developmental stage (Amir, 1969).

This study examines the attitudes and behaviors of firstyear college students toward people whose cultures and lifestyles are different from their own. Factors contributing to the formation of these attitudes, such as those described above, were included in a questionnaire developed by the authors. This instrument, the Cultural Orientation and Awareness Test (COAT) included demographic and other items from the International Awareness Test (IAT). The IAT (Molla & Sedlacek, 1989) was previously administered to U.S. and international students to assess their knowledge of international issues and events.

Others items selected for the COAT measured cognitive and behavioral components of intercultural attitudes as well as a more general tolerance for diversity. Both cognitive and behavioral components were included in an effort to measure differing but equally important aspects of intercultural attitudes (Fishbein & Azjen, 1975). The general tolerance items were designed to measure a respondent's awareness of, and tolerance for, the differences that exist between people. Items measuring attitudes toward differences focused on race, gender, age, and abilities. The remaining items concerned attitudes about sexual orientation. Tolerance toward homosexuality was believed to be positively liked with tolerance for these other factors. Items measuring attitudes toward homosexuality were

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developed by Hansen (1982) and were included as a validity check for the COAT.

Method

A random sample of 132 freshmen (53% male, 47% female) completed the Cultural Orientation and Awareness Test as part of a summer orientation program at a large eastern university. The COAT was made up of 60 items that assessed demographic and attitudinal information. Data were summarized through means, standard deviations, and percentages. Chi-square tests were conducted to determine if significant gender differences existed among students on demographic items. Reported findings were significant at the .05 level.

Results

Chi-square tests did not reveal significant gender differences among students. The remaining data are summarized and presented in the following categories: demographic information, intercultural attitudes, tolerance for diversity, and attitudes toward homosexuality.

Demographic information. The mean student age was 17.6 years; 86% were White, 7% were African American, 3% Asian American, 3% Latino, and 0.08% American Indian. In responding to the item, "What religious faith do you follow," 30% replied Jewish, 27% replied Catholic and 19% Protestant, while 15% did not follow any religious faith. Parents of 72% of the students had completed a four year college degree or more.

Ninety-six percent stated that they were United States citizens, while 4% were citizens of another country. Students

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were asked to assess their ability to complete a number of tasks in the modern foreign language that they knew best. Seventy percent stated they could order a simple meal, and 52% said that they could read a letter from a foreign friend; 33% believed that they could write a letter to a friend. Hut only 11% thought they could write a job application, and 5% stated they could undergo an interview for a job or scholarship in a foreign language. Thirteen percent did not know any foreign language.

While only 5% had lived in another country, 62% had traveled to other countries. The majority of these students (74%) spent one month or less in another country, 17% had spent two months, and 9% had spent more than two months in another country. Canada, Central American, and Europe were the most frequently traveled countries (see Table 1). Approximately 16% stated that they had studied in these countries/regions.

Insert Table 1 about here

One item asked students to select "which one of the following ...contributed the most to your knowledge of international affairs." Forty-four percent stated that their primary sources were news organizations or the media, 29% replied high school classes, and 21% identified parents, family, and friends. A related series of questions asked students to rate the frequency (1 = Never, 3 = occasionally, 5 = Daily) with which they received information from various news organizations. Over 62% watched television news often or daily. Fifty-two percent stated that they read a newspaper often or daily, and 33%

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read occasionally. Twenty-five percent of students seldom or never read news magazines while 52% read occasionally. Forty-six percent of students listened to the news on the radio daily or often, while 27% seldom or never listened to radio news.

Intercultural attitudes. Generally, students responded positively to items dealing with cognitive components of interracial attitudes (see Table 2). For example, over 85% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement "Traveling in other countries helps one appreciate different cultures." Sixty-six percent also did not expect to get "picked on" by people from other cultures when traveling, while sixty-two percent disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, "Traveling abroad does not usually foster respect for other cultures because citizens of many countries do not like foreigners."

Insert Table 2 about here

In contrast, students revealed some ambivalence when responding to more behavioral components of intercultural attitudes. While sixty-nine percent stated that they were usually comfortable interacting with people from other countries, over 70% stated that they seldom or never had meals with persons from other countries. Seventy percent also said that they never or seldom attended social events where people from different countries participated or invited people from other countries to visit at their residences. Approximately 50% never or seldom attempted to obtain information about events outside the United

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States. Fifty-three percent of the students also disagreed with the statement, "When I travel in another country, I would prefer to live with a family from that country rather than stay in a hotel room." And only 47% disagreed with the statement "There is no culture as good as my own."

Tolerance for diversity. Approximately 63% of students disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, "I'd rather convince people to agree with my viewpoint than to be aware of theirs" (See Table 3). Seventy-one percent also were optimistic that people could tolerate each others' viewpoints. Sixty-eight percent agreed with the statement, "Differences of opinions can often lead to better solutions." And over 50% disagreed with an item stating "I could probably never marry someone from another culture because the differences would be too much to overcome." In responding to the question, "It can be overwhelming, even disturbing, when one considers the many differences that exist between people," students were divided; 41% agreed with this statement, 25% disagreed, and 29% remained neutral.

Insert Table 3 about here

In reacting to more specific aspects of tolerance, seventy-two percent disagreed with the statement, "It embarrasses me to see a person who is disabled attempting to open a door," although 65% did not think that they themselves could adjust to life in a wheelchair. Forty-nine percent did not believe that people from a different generation do not know what is important, while 73% stated that they had friends who were quite a bit older than they

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were.

Attitudes toward homosexuality. Students expressed fairly tolerant attitudes toward homosexuality (see Table 4). For example, 60% agreed with the statement, "Sexual preference should not be a factor in employment opportunity," while 56% believed that job discrimination against homosexuals is wrong. Approximately 60% did not believe that homosexuals should not be accepted as renters in apartment complexes. And 52% disagreed with the item, "I would never have anything to do with a person if I knew he/she was a homosexual."

Insert Table 4 about here

However, as with intercultural attitudes, some ambivalence toward homosexuality was also revealed. Thirty-seven percent of students stated that they would not like to work with a homosexual, while 33% were neutral towards this item. Nearly 30% of students also stated that if they found out one of their friends were homosexual, their friendship would be severely damaged; 33% remained neutral. Thirty-nine percent agreed with the statement, "I would not want a homosexual to live in the house (apartment) next to mine" while 33% again were neutral.

Discussion

Results of the current study reveal a fairly high level of tolerance by first-year students toward persons of different cultures and lifestyles, but that tolerance is mitigated by a certain amount of ambivalence. These students, on the whole,

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came from well-educated backgrounds and had had a fairly large amount of contact with other cultures through travel and study abroad. A large percentage were familiar with at least one foreign language; over half thought they could read correspondence in that language. Student perceptions as to how people in other countries would treat them suggest that they do not expect negative treatment by others. Thus, expectations of negative treatment are not likely to hinder any potential interaction that might occur.

While the data revealed that a large number of students have had contact with people of differing backgrounds, this contact remained for the most part at a distant level. That is, attitudes developed while traveling two weeks in a different country as a tourist will likely differ from attitudes developed while living for six months with a family in the same country. For most students, cross-cultural awareness is not likely to be based on intimate knowledge of another culture, but on abstract information garnered from a sojourn or the news media. These may then give rise to more stereotypical attitudes toward people of different cultural backgrounds, and thus, the ambivalence noted in the results.

Bogardus (1933) devised a scale that assessed the level of admittance of people from other races and ethnicities into one's personal life through a series of social distance levels. These levels range from marriage (closest), to neighborhood, to employment, to exclusion from one's own country (farthest). Responses on COAT items reveal that at moderate levels of social distance, such as employment, students tended to be very tolerant

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toward people of different cultures and lifestyles. But as the amount of social distance decreased, tolerance and the willingness to interact decreased as well. For example, while most students believed that sexual preference should not be a factor in employment, a fairly large proportion felt that they would not like to have a homosexual person as a next-door neighbor.

Previous research has also revealed attitudes to be a function of social distance. Merritt, Sedlacek, and Brooks (1977) found that White students felt positively toward Blacks as police officers, but were negative towards them as social group members or fiances. Sedlacek and Brooks (1972) also found that in situations involving the most intimate contact, such as dating and marriage, race was a relevant variable. It is possible that being from another country or having different abilities may also have similar effects. The paradoxical results obtained here would seem to indicate that this indeed may be the case.

Contact seems to be the most efficient means through which such ambivalence may be overcome (Amir, 1969). McGuire (1969) found that if such contact is persistent and maintained, there is a greater likelihood that increased positivity toward others results. The opportunity to come into close contact, however, seems to be a factor as to whether contact will occur and changes in attitudes will result. And it is in this area of student life that universities can have a great and positive impact, first, on attitudes of tolerance, and second, on overall student development. Such attitudes affect the quality of life and level

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of satisfaction that students achieve on campus. These attitudes may even affect the development of a student's self-confidence and the probability that he or she may be retained. Learning how to understand and appreciate people of diverse backgrounds can help one cope with and adapt to new situations and new environments. Universities can foster knowledge and tolerance by creating academic and social environments conducive to this area of student development.

Programs that encourage such contact among people of diverse backgrounds (eg., different country of origin, different age, ability, sexual orientation), such as roommate and classroom experiences, will likely result in increased tolerance. Sedlacek, Troy, and Chapman (1976) demonstrated the value of orientation programs in reducing negative interracial attitudes among university students. Similarly, Regan and Sedlacek (1989) strongly recommended workshops to change negative racial attitudes of White students as well as to educate both African American and White students on their differing communication styles.

Students in the current study revealed that they felt comfortable with people from other countries and expected to be well treated by them, but that they did little to initiate such contact. Promoting such interaction through programs similar to the ones described above might help students to overcome the ambivalence they may feel towards other people and generate increased understanding and tolerance. And, given that many of the students obtained information on international affairs through the mass media, educational institutions ought to

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additionally incorporate knowledge of and tolerance for cultural difference into the curricula itself as a means of fostering understanding. Overcoming the barrier of student intolerance will in turn help universities in their drive to build true communities of diversity based on the experiences and achievements of all its members.

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References

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

Astin A. W. (1982). Minorities in American higher education: Recent trends, current prospects, and

recommendations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bogardus, E. S. (1933). Social distance scale. Sociology and Social Research, 17, 265-271.

Boyer, S. P., & Sedlacek, W. E. (1988). Noncognitve predictors of academic success for international students:

A longitudinal study. Journal of College Student Development, 29, 218-222.

Brooks, G. C., Sedlacek, W. E., & Mindus, L. A. (1973). Interracial contact and attitudes among university

students. Journal of Non-white Concerns, 1, 102-110.

Clore, G. L., Bray, R. M., Itkin, S. M., & Murphy, P. (1978). Interracial attitudes and behavior at a summer

camp. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 107-116.

Cook, S. W. (1984). Cooperative interaction in multiethnic contexts. In N. Miller & M. B. Brewer (Eds.),

Groups in contact: The psychology of desegregation. Orlando: Academic Press, Inc.

Fishbein, M., & Azjen, I. (1975). Belief, attitude, intention, and behavior: An introduction to theory and

research. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Hansen, G. L. (1982). Measuring prejudice against homosexuality (homosexism) among college students: A

new scale. Journal of Social Psychology, 117, 233-236.

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McGuire W. J. (1969). The nature of attitudes and attitude change. The Handbook of Social Psychology, Vol 3,

Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Merritt, M. S., Sedlacek, W. E., & Brooks, G. C. (1977). Quality of interracial interaction among univeristy

students. Integrateducation, 15, 37-38.

Molla, B., & Westbrook, F. D. (1990). White student attitudes toward African American students on a

predominantly White campus. Counseling Center Research Report #12-90. University of Maryland, College Park.

Molla, B., & Sedlacek, W. E. (1989). International student self-appraisal and institutional expectations.

Counseling Center Research Report #23-89. University of Maryland, College Park.

Regan, A. M., & Sedlacek, W. E. (1989). Changes in social commitment of university freshmen over a decade

by race and gender. Journal of The Freshman Year Experience, 1, 7-19.

Sedlacek, W. E. (1987). Black students on White campuses: Twenty years of research. Journal of College

Student Personnel, 28, 484-495.

Sedlacek, W. E., & Brooks, G. C., Jr. (1972). The situational attitude scale (SAS) manual. Chicago:

Natresources, Inc.

Sedlacek, W. E., Troy, W. G., & Chapman, T. H. (1976). An evaluation of three methods of racism-sexism

training. Personnel and Guidance Journal, 55, 196-198.

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Wilson, R., & Melendez, S. E. (1986). Fifth annual status report on minorities in higher education. Washington,

D.C American Council on Education, Office of Minority Concerns.

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Table 1: Percentages of Students Traveling to Different Countries and Regions

Country/Region

Percent Who Traveled

1. Africa

2

2. Asia (Far East)

5

3. Britain (Ireland, Scotland)

9

4. Canada

39

5. Central America and Caribbean Islands

24

6. Contenental Europe

20

7. Middle East

10

8. North America

30

9. South America

7

10. Have not traveled

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Note: Categories are not mutually exclusive; students were able to select one or more categories.

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Table 2: Means and Standard Deviations for Items on Intercultural Behavior and Contact

Item

Mean

SD

1. I have a meal with a person from another country.

2.05

0.96

2. I attend a social event where people from other countries participate.

2.06

0.91

3. I invite people from another country to visit me at my residence.

1.81

0.95

4. I try and get information about events outside the U.S.

2.51

1.06

5.* Traveling in other countries helps one appreciate different cultures.

1.66

0.92

6. There is no culture as good as my own.

3.41

1.19

7. I am usually comfortable interacting with people from other countries.

2.24

0.76

8. When I travel, I prefer to take the guided tour with groups of people.

3.27

1.05

9. I would prefer to watch information on TV than be a part of an audience.

3.27

0.93

10. Traveling abroad does not usually help foster respect for other cultures because citizens of many countries do not like foreigners.

3.71

0.93

11. Traveling is often more pleasurable if I visit places by myself than if I go with a group.

3.13

1.15

12. Cultural differences are so overwhelming that conflict between nations is inevitable.

3.24

0.95

13. When I travel, I do not expect to get "picked on" by people whose culture is different from my own.

2.3

0.88

14. When I travel in another country, I would prefer to live with a family from that country than stay in a hotel room.

3.4

1.16

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Note. Responses to items 1-4 were based on the following choices: 1 = Never, 2 = Seldom, 3 = Occasionally, 4 = Often, 5 =Daily. Responses to items 5-14 were based on the following choices: 1 = Strongly Agree, 2 = Agree, 3 = Neutral, 4 =Disagree, 5 = Strongly Disagree.

*Intercultural Contact Attitude Subscale begins here.

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Table 3: Means and Standard Deviations for Items of General Tolerance Subscale

Item

Mean*

SD

1. Differences of opinions can often lead to better solutions.

2.19

83

2. It saddens me that others cannot possibly understand me because I am unique.

3.36

97

3. I could adjust to life in a wheelchair.

3.84

1.05

4. I do not like to discuss social issues.

3.88

0.97

5. People from a different generation often don't know what is really important.

3.36

0.97

6. It embarrasses me to see a person who is disabled attempting to open a door.

3.9

1.02

7. I'd rather convince people to agree with my viewpoint than to be aware of theirs.

3.65

0.93

8. I could probably never marry someone from another culture because the differences would be too much to overcome.

3.5

1.1

9. I am optimistic that people can tolerate each others' viewpoints.

2.24

0.88

10. It's overoptimistic to think the world's problems will be solved through negotiation.

3.2

0.98

11. I have several friends who are quite a bit older than I am.

2.11

0.95

12. It can be overwhelming, even disturbing, when one considers the many differences that exist between people.

2.8

1.03

*1 = Strongly Agree, 5 = Strongly Disagree

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Table 4: Means and Standard Deviations for Items of Attitudes Toward Homosexuality Subscale

Item

Mean*

SD

1. Sexual preference should not be a factor in employment opportunity.

2.24

1.17

2. Homosexuals are just like everyone else, they simply chose an alternate lifestyle.

2.76

1.27

3. Homosexuals should be isolated from heterosexuals.

3.52

1.14

4. Homosexuals should not be discriminated against because of their sexual preference.

2.51

1.17

5. Homosexual acts should be illegal.

3.33

1.24

6. Homosexuals are a danger to our young people.

3.11

1.27

7. I would not like to work with a homosexual.

2.85

1.16

8. Homosexuals should not hold high government offices.

3.31

1.12

9. Job discrimination against homosexuals is wrong.

2.45

1.1

10. Homosexuals should not hold leadership positions.

3.48

1

11. Homosexuals do not corrupt young people.

2.82

1.05

12. I would not want a homosexual to live in the house (apartment) next to mine.

2.76

1.23

13. If I found out that one of my friends was homosexual, our friendship would be damaged.

3.1

1.15

14. I would never have anything to do with a person if I knew he/she was a homosexual.

3.5

1.09

15. Apartment complexes should not accept homosexuals as renters.

3.68

1.06

20

*1 = Strongly Agree, 5 = Strongly Disagree

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