The New York Times reports today on new research suggesting that having a roommate of a different race can reduce prejudice among college students.
The article, by Tamar Lewin, highlights several recent studies showing that a dose of ethnic diversity in campus life often stimulates acceptance and goodwill in both minority and majority groups. Living with someone of a different race improves the psychological and academic landscape for many students, and increases their likelihood of having future cross-cultural relationships.
"The intimacy of living together does lead to more interracial relationships," Claudia Buchmann, a professor of sociology at Ohio State University, tells the Times. Russell H. Fazio, a psychology professor at Ohio State who has done much research on the topic, adds that "if the relationship can reach 10 weeks, we could see improvement in racial attitudes."
Of course, increased diversity is not without some problems, as a study by Thomas Trail of Princeton suggests. Trail notes how, over time, poor interracial relationships can take an emotional toll on minority students. "It wasn't that the white students started being mean or negative," he says. "Instead, it was a drop-off in positive behaviors, like smiling, or making eye-contact, that led the minority students to feel worse."
These results may hold true for some, but researcher Colette Van Laar and her colleagues at UCLA add that rooming with someone of a different race, or culture, affects future judgments and attitudes, changing them for the better by reducing stereotypes and prejudices.