Deconstructing racial essentialism in the classroom : The impact of social constructionist curricula on student diversity interaction


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

This study aims to examine how change in white college students’ beliefs about race over the course of a semester impacted their interactions with diverse others. While there is an increasing interest in understanding people’s beliefs about race, there has been limited research examining how people’s beliefs about race can and do change over time and how education can facilitate this change. White students (N = 98) at a predominantly white college completed a multidimensional racial essentialism measure and measures of both self-report and behavioral interactions with diversity, at the beginning and end of a semester. Multilevel modeling with time-varying predictors was used to examine how change in beliefs about race related to change in diversity interactions. The impact of racial essentialism on student diversity interaction varied considerably depending on the type of racial essentialism. Higher levels of speciation and genotypic essentialism at Time 1 were related to lower interaction with diversity at Time 2. Decreases in phenotypic essentialism were concurrent with increases in diversity interaction over the duration of the semester. For a subgroup of students enrolled in a race and diversity course, unexpectedly, decreases in genotypic essentialism were concurrent with decreases in diversity interaction. By using a multidimensional model of beliefs about race with a longitudinal assessment, this study contributes to our understanding of how specific components of beliefs about race change over time and how change in these beliefs occurs concurrently with students’ diverse interactions. The findings are discussed in relation to the impact of education on students’ peer interactions with diverse others, with specific implications for race and diversity pedagogy.

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