College administrations have generally offered two responses to campus social justice protests: More diversity training, and more identity centers. The idea is that the best ways to address racism and prejudice on campus are to teach students to conform to the academy’s dominant political paradigm, and to create “safe spaces” for minority students to gather with members of their own identity group.
The problem is that neither of these solutions has much of a track record of success. In an interesting post at Heterodox Academy (a new website quickly making itself indispensable for campus-watchers), social psychologist Chris Martin surveys some of the academic literature on diversity training and self-segregation efforts. Neither of them have been shown reliably to work in combatting racism; some studies show that they actually exacerbate racial tensions. Martin then offers three approaches that colleges could pursue to address racial alienation that have a basis in social science and evidence:
First, colleges can attempt to tackle stereotype threat, which is what happens when people choke because they feel threatened by a negative stereotype. […]
Second, colleges can support a sense of belonging in school. It’s normal to feel like an outsider when you begin your college education. Unfortunately, students from minority groups may assume that incoming White students feel included and that feelings of exclusions are unique to minorities. Even worse, they may not realize that those feelings are transient […]
Third, colleges can induce a common ingroup identity among students, creating a situation where each student views other students as members of a unified college community. Minority students often identify solely as minority students, and this tendency can be exacerbated by diversity programs. However, they can adopt a dual identity, so that they feel like their racial identity is complemented by their identity as an ordinary student. White students can also be induced to view the college community as a single community, rather than view minority students as an outgroup. […]
Read Martin’s whole post. He discusses concrete steps that colleges could take to advance these objectives, and cites academic studies demonstrating their efficacy.
Various forms of prejudice clearly persist on college campuses, just as they persist everywhere else in society. If colleges are interested in addressing this, they should try those strategies that have the best chance of working, rather than blindly acceding to an ideological project.