Research on race and ethnic relations among community college students

Research on race and ethnic relations among community college students

William Maxwell

Considerable research has been conducted in the past two decades on race and ethnic relations among community college students. The atheoretical underpinnings of this research have led to vague and conflicting findings regarding such concepts as campus climate, discrimination, and the benefits of campus diversity. This article briefly reviews potentially relevant theories and research methods and offers many specific suggestions for future research on student diversity.

Keywords: race relations; ethnic relations; intergroup relations; interracial contact; social interaction; campus surveys; campus climate; discrimination; community college students; 2-year colleges


Despite dramatic demographic, political, and cultural changes in North American society, there is a remarkable absence of scholarly research on student race relations and campus climates in community colleges. Political forces have struggled over immigration and affirmative action policies, including the landmark court case University of California v. Bakke (1978) and the more recent Grutter v. Bollinger (2003). Demographic trends show that the proportion of racial and ethnic minority students doubled in the colleges from 15.7% to 30.3% between 1976 and 1996 and will continue to increase in the next 25 years (Kee, 1999). Yet a recent review of the burgeoning scholarship on this issue refers almost entirely to 4-year university settings (Hurtado, Dey, Gurin, & Gurin, 2003).

Given this significant gap in the literature, this review addresses two central questions:

Research Question 1: How have scholars previously examined relations among community college students from diverse racial and ethnic groups?

Research Question 2: What are promising future theoretical topics and research methods for studying relations among community college students from diverse racial and ethnic groups?

For the purposes of this review, the students of interest are those who attend community colleges with considerable structural diversity (i.e., those who attend 2-year colleges other than tribal colleges, historically Black colleges, overwhelmingly White colleges, and others populated almost entirely by one cultural group). This article begins with a brief description of several theories of race relations among diverse racial and ethnic students. These theories are borrowed mainly from the social sciences and 4-year college literature. The remainder of the review examines empirical studies of diversity and campus climate in community colleges. We do not conclude this review with a list of findings or future research suggestions because few well-established conclusions can be drawn from the literature. Rather, we focus the discussion in each section on future research opportunities instead of deferring them to the conclusion.

In addition to student race and ethnic relations, which is the subject of this review, community college scholarship has also considered race and ethnicity as discrete categories. These studies are outside the scope of this review but have included, for example, analyses of success rates among student groups, instructional and programmatic efforts designed for diverse students, and relations between diverse students, faculty, and staff (see, e.g., Cejda & Rhodes, 2004; Nora, 2004; Rendon, Hope, & Associates, 1996; Townsend, 2000).

Theories About Student Race Relations

The preeminent theories of student race relations rarely comment on community colleges. As such, the theories discussed in this section depend heavily on the 4-year college literature. Note that although the most cited theories emphasize the psychological features of diversity efforts, this analysis will also address the social factors of diversity and, where the limited literature permits, the cultural dimensions of diversity.

Functional Theories

The prevailing perspective on campus diversity is drawn from Allport’s (1954) contact theory. This theory proposes that intergroup interaction can reduce prejudice among college students, given four conditions: (a) equal status of the groups in the college setting, (b) common goals, (c) intergroup cooperation, and (d) support of authorities, law, or custom. Contact theory has successfully reached across scholarly disciplines to address psychological, social, and cultural features of race relations and has received wide acceptance among behavioral and social scientists and higher education researchers (e.g., Brown & Hewstone, 2005; Pettigrew, 1998). The contact hypothesis has been used to imply that equality within the college, communication, and common values readily occur within American colleges to foster prejudice reduction. Scholars have applied this theory frequently in research on 4-year campuses but not often to community colleges.

Gurin, Dey, Hurtado, and Gurin (2002) have advanced a similar theory, which they posited the potential benefits of diversity efforts in 4-year colleges. A central thesis of this perspective is that efforts to increase diversity on American campuses have led to democracy outcomes, which include knowledge and awareness about other cultures, civic cooperation, and integration in settings such as classrooms, voluntary organizations, and the workforce. Like contact theory, this functional perspective also assumes open communication and relatively equal status among students in American colleges. This line of analysis has rarely been applied to research on community college students.

Acculturation and Assimilation Theories

The preceding psychological approaches are paralleled by long-standing functional perspectives in sociology in theories of immigration, ethnic stratification, and inevitable assimilation. These lenses are quite relevant to community colleges because these institutions are on the front lines in the education of recent immigrants. Gordon (1964) defined structural assimilation as consisting of several kinds of social relations subsumed under two categories: secondary relationships in colleges and workplaces and primary relationships such as friendships and cliques. The emphasis on communication and assimilation in these sociological perspectives is very similar to the emphasis on cultural and social involvement in higher education theories of integration and engagement (Pike & Kuh, 2005; Tinto, 1997). In general, these theories focus on communication and cooperation instead of power differentials and the social exclusion and competition experienced by some students at culturally diverse colleges. Although they do not emphasize campus conflict, Bean and Metzner (1985) have adapted a functional approach to pay special attention to the cultural groups off campus from which students may draw social support (see, e.g., Person & Rosenbaum, 2006).

Conflict Theories

Various conflict theories focus on the tension and struggle among racial and ethnic groups. A central implication from conflict perspectives is that campus intergroup processes are closely linked to structures of domination and reproduction in the societal context of the college (Omi & Winant, 1994). These theories implicitly suggest that disadvantaged students tend to respond to discrimination with resistance or alienation. However, these theories tend to underemphasize how students from marginal cultures willfully cooperate with and accept the practices and beliefs of the dominant culture.

A few recent innovations in conflict theory have attempted to refine the conceptions of intergroup struggle and to incorporate the insights of assimilation perspectives. Integrated threat theory (Stephan & Stephan, 2000) and social dominance theory (Sidanius & Pratto, 1993) both suggest that conflicts emerge between those who are trying to acquire material resources and those who are trying to retain them. Assimilation processes have been acknowledged by recent conflict theories in new conceptions of dissonant, consonant, and selective acculturation that tend to discount the notion of full assimilation (Portes & Rumbaut, 2001).

A very different theoretical approach concerns such conflicts as the subtle racial insults experienced by African American students at primarily White universities. These conflicts have been analyzed through the lens of critical race theory (Solorzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000). Critical race theory advocates a method for developing personal insight and understanding the organizational structure that leads to covert discrimination in U.S. institutional settings. This is a potentially useful method in community colleges, where racism is less overt and where an ideology of a welcoming and open door is prevalent. For a time, particularly in the 1980s, scholars frequently reported overt racial conflicts on 4-year campuses but they did not often monitor these struggles in the community colleges (Farrell & Jones, 1988).

Glaring racial and cultural divides found in the de facto ethnic and racial tracking of students into remedial and college-level courses have attracted little research from a conflict perspective. Although the classroom is the only place on campus where many community college students are engaged, enrollments by race and ethnicity vary extremely among classrooms (Maxwell et al., 2003). Conflict theories could explore whether there are processes by which minority racial and ethnic groups are marginalized from more rigorous college courses.

Although theories about race relations on 2-year college campuses are few, there have been empirical studies of intergroup race relations at community colleges. We discuss these studies in the following section.

Empirical Studies of Student Race and Ethnic Relations in Community Colleges

In the paragraphs that follow, we examine ethnically diverse student relations along a few dimensions of assimilation–acculturation, and secondary and primary structural assimilation–as well as two student conflict variables: discrimination and prejudice. Most of the available research comes not from academic and scholarly periodicals but from the practical and action-oriented publications of college institutional research offices, government administrative centers, and education associations. Most of the studies available in national databases were conducted in the blue (democratic) states, particularly on the West Coast, some in the Midwest and northeastern region, and very few in other regions.

Studies of Campus Racial Climate

Several researchers have examined racial climates at community colleges. There are several dimensions of campus climate, including social relations among diverse groups of students, friendliness, comfort, belonging, college support of diversity, safety, and equitable treatment by staff, faculty, and students. Despite the fair number of campus climate studies conducted within individual community colleges, there has been only one national study. In 1997, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) surveyed 1,450 community college presidents and administrators, of whom 360 replied (Kee, 1999). The central measure on the questionnaire asked administrators and presidents to rate campus climate on a 5-point scale: contentious to harmonious. None rated their colleges with a score of 1 at the contentious pole of the scale; 21% of participants rated their colleges as harmonious with a score of 5; and 39% rated their colleges as 4, somewhat harmonious. Almost one third, 31%, selected the midpoint score of 3, a mix of conflict and harmony. Seven percent indicated the score of 2, for somewhat contentious campus climates.

Given the low response rate, the limited theoretical depth of the analysis, and the reliance on only one unvalidated measure of racial climate, these national data must be used with caution. However, the study does suggest that a majority of community college presidents perceive their campus climates as harmonious and that a substantial proportion of the nation’s colleges are also perceived as less than harmonious.

Research at Individual Community Colleges

With the exception of the AACC study, the majority of data on individual community college campus climate is found in 17 studies in the 1990s of one or more community colleges. The samples have typically not been randomly selected and have only modest indications of being representative. However, many of these samples do not appear to be unrepresentative and many are large, with more than 600 students. For example, one of the studies surveyed approximately 13,000 students at 25 different college campuses (Washington State Board, 1997).

However, without any theoretical uniformity or solid conceptual base for these studies, the particular measures used varied considerably in content. For example, London (1978) and Weis (1985) conducted ethnographies, Person and Rosenbaum (2006) both conducted interviews and surveyed respondents, and three studies explored a few student focus groups (Clements, 1997; Weissman, Bulakowski, & Jumisko, 1998; Willett, 2002). This lack of uniformity dilutes the comparability of the studies and likely accounts for much of the variation in findings.

In broad terms, the research findings from individual colleges portray many campuses–particularly those on the West Coast–as welcoming and supportive social zones. Questionnaire surveys were administered at 39 campuses: 32 colleges were described as positive by 85% or more of the students, although it must be cautioned that the estimates for the 25 Washington colleges were statewide averages that may obscure group differences at individual campuses (Arnold, 1995; Hart, Lutkemeier, & Gustafson, 2002; Milwaukee Area Technical College, 1988; San Diego Community College District, 1994; Washington State Board, 1997; Willett, 2002). Four of the college climates were rated by 70% to 84% of the students as positive (Clements, 1997; Howard Community College, 1998; Mattice, 1994), and three campuses were rated as positive by 48% to 58% of the students (Boughan, 1992; Lee, 1994; Luan, 1995).

To some extent, positive campus climate ratings can be attributed to the predominance of White students who typically rate the racial and ethnic climate as higher than do non-White students. For example, in a focus group conducted by Weissman et al. (1998) at a 75% White suburban Chicago campus, a White student ironically remarked, “It is so diverse here. I think it’s great” (p. 33).

Minority students do not always rate campus diversity climates lower than do White students. For example, for the 13,000 students at the 25 colleges surveyed by the Washington State Board (1997), on average, 96% of Asian American, Latino, and White students and 87% of African Americans rated their campus climate as positive.

The positive description of campus racial climates at many individual colleges is largely consistent with the AACC study cited earlier. Furthermore, these positive studies do not show the strident kinds of White racism reported in two ethnographies conducted in northeastern states in the 1970s and 1980s: verbal intimidations, physical threats, antagonistic group depictions of other groups, covert hostility, and an absence of informal contact outside the campus (London, 1978; Weis, 1985). Perhaps this is evidence that the racism perceived by many as prevalent on community college campuses in decades past has dissipated or changed forms. We might also attribute differences in findings to variations in geographic region or methods of research.

These individual campus climate studies have established important foundations for the future study of racial and ethnic climates in community colleges. The samples are large, and although they are not random, they are not easily discounted. In general, many of the studies used technically proficient measures often borrowed from a common item pool such as those provided in the California Postsecondary Education Commission (1992) publications.

The most basic limitation of these studies has already been mentioned: the absence of explicit and consistent theoretical foundations, although Person and Rosenbaum (2006) is an important exception. For example, theoretical development is needed to expand the concept of climate to include prejudice, tension, exclusion, struggle, and discrimination.

Various methodological advances are warranted as well. Very few studies have relied on interviews, focus groups, or observation. These methods of exploration could be used to develop initial conceptual frameworks for understanding current campus race relations. Several specific technical questionnaire issues may also be raised: response-set bias from stating almost all the survey items in a positive tone and halo effect bias from grouping all of the ethnicity items together. Standard survey procedures for randomly varying item valence and mixing various topics in the sequence of items would resolve these problems in future research. Most studies have not attempted to reconcile item divergences or develop an overall measure of the climate. Thus, for example, in a very diverse San Francisco East Bay suburban college (Arnold, 1995), where 84% of the students agreed with the single item “there is respect for differences in race/ethnicity” and 90% agreed with the item “I feel welcome,” 32% also agreed that “tension between different cultural groups that leads to verbal abuse or physical violence is a problem” and 31% reported that they did not feel “physically safe and secure on campus.” Finally, none of the studies described above reported efforts to ascertain the reliability or validity estimates for the survey items. Future research must thus address the development of multi-item scales and ascertain the reliability and validity of the meaning of the measures.

Another uncertain feature of the research methods is the unusually large percentage of students who selected the neutral response category or did not respond to questionnaire items concerning race relations on campus. The number of neutral responses and nonresponses comprises as much as two thirds of otherwise large samples. Although some reports discard all neutral and missing responses, these data are in fact related to important student perceptions including uncertainty, fears, and tensions (Howard Community College, 1998; San Diego Community College District, 1994). Future research can deal with these issues by incorporating neutral and missing responses as an important form of response, by developing other measures that elicit a more direct form of negative or positive response, and by directly examining the nature of related fears and uncertainties.

Discrimination and Racism at Community Colleges

Conflict theories posit that intergroup racial competition, struggle, and discrimination are likely present at diverse colleges. However, only about one third of the studies examined discrimination on campus. On most of the campuses where racism was studied, less than one fifth of the students reported that they were the targets of discrimination. For example, in the San Diego Community College District (1994), where Whites comprise slightly more than half of the student population, 13% of students indicated that they had frequently or occasionally “been discriminated against because of my race/ethnicity,” and a clear majority of each ethnic category indicated that they had “never” been discriminated against. Similarly, at a suburban Chicago campus where three quarters of the students are classified as White, a Latino student in Weissman et al.’s (1998) focus group commented,

I felt better when I came to CLC because I don’t look at people as

a color. When you are in the outside world, people look at you and

judge you. Here at CLC, it doesn’t matter if you are young, old,

what color, and that is what the great part about it is. (p. 34)

To a substantial extent, these findings parallel earlier evidence of relatively harmonious campus climates. Yet in the Chicago focus group, a Latina recounted, “When I first started in class when I was walking in, they said, ‘All those Hispanics are stupid and all are in gangs. All they do is drink.’ Automatically, they all thought bad of me” (p. 34). Racism and discrimination are not far away from many classrooms and campus networks. Although the resilient Latina quoted above went on to say, “By the end of the class I had my good points…. They finally respected me” (p. 34), the threat of rejection and inequity lurks for many under the amiable surface of academe. It may be the uncertainty of the threat that leads so many of the students to be reluctant to answer some survey questions about race relations and that leads many other respondents to select the neutral or unsure response categories.

Although in these studies some students from each ethnic background reported that they had encountered discrimination, people of color were about 10% more likely to report discrimination than were White people. For example, at the four colleges studied in San Diego, only 10% of Whites indicated that they had experienced discrimination, compared to 18% of African Americans, 22% of Asian Americans, and 12% of Latinos (San Diego Community College District, 1994). Black and White students at Milwaukee Area Technical College (1988) reported corresponding discrimination levels.

Future research needs to explore the nature and the frequency of prejudice, racism, and discrimination on community college campuses. The limitations of the past decade’s survey research methods–the high rates of neutral responses and nonresponses and conceptually vague measures that underestimate discrimination rates–indicate that future research must investigate whether the rates of subtle discrimination, racism, and neglect are considerably more accurate than the relatively optimistic reports in the current literature. For example, in an exception to prevailing questionnaire methods, a Maryland campus survey included a detailed list of 18 different types of racial bias, and 38% of the students indicated that they were the recipients of at least one of the 18 types of discrimination, about twice the discrimination rate usually reported (Boughan, 1992). The implication should be obvious: Researchers need to develop detailed theories of discrimination and corresponding measures so that the targets of racism can fully report their college experiences.

Racial Relations in the Classroom

Classrooms are the focus of student campus activity and are the most likely spaces of intergroup contact among students, many of whom are part-time students and leave the college immediately after class. Despite the focus of the colleges on classroom learning, there has been almost no research about the interpersonal racial processes occurring in diverse classrooms.

Participation rates in classroom activities may vary among races. In a Washington State Board (1997) study of 25 community colleges, about half of African American students reported that they frequently asked questions in class, which is more than any other ethnic group. Asian American and Latino students participated the least in class discussions; only about one third said that they frequently asked questions.

Some minority students expressed uncomfortable classroom experiences of loneliness or tokenism. Weissman et al. (1998) reported that these students wished for more minority students in their classes and that many did not want the teacher to ask them to explain the attitudes or behavior of their ethnic group. Mattice (1994) cited students who wrote, “Of all the classes I have taken at COC [College of the Canyons[, I have been the only African American enrolled. Sometimes I ask myself what I am doing at COC. This has nothing to do with me sensing any prejudice or discrimination at all” (p. 38).

Future research could address the extent and nature of these tensions in classrooms, including loneliness and racial and ethnic tokenism. In addition, studies could examine whether the loneliness of isolated minority community college students as compared to residential students in 4-year colleges is partially alleviated by the opportunity community college students have to return daily to their homes and familiar social networks. Researchers might also examine whether the threat of unalleviated racial isolation at a residential college leads many to enroll at a local 2-year or 4-year commuter campus.

College teaching could also benefit from research on race relations in the classroom. For example, contact theory could be explored for the development of strategies for building equal classroom status positions among racially and ethnically diverse students. Research using theories of structural diversity may consider its application to intergroup relations and cross-group and same-group formations; dominance theories can help inform the emergence of competition for scarce resources and rewards; and critical race theory can be applied to identify practices of unconscious group privilege and discrimination in the classroom.

Studies of Race Relations in Students’ Social Lives

Previous research suggests that few community college students are socially integrated in extracurricular campus networks (Dougherty, 1992). Similarly, the Washington State Board (1997) study found that 70% to 80% of students spent fewer than 7 hours outside class on campus per week. Correspondingly low levels of social interaction were reported at colleges in rural California (Willett, 2002), in Maryland (Boughan, 1992), and in New York’s Westchester County (Lee, 1994). In Weis’ (1985) study of social interaction, one East Coast urban college instructor reported, “While there is no overt hostility between black and white students in classes, at the end of classes, they don’t see each other at all” (p. 57).

Despite the skepticism of many observers over whether there is social life at community colleges, several studies indicate that some students feel they have friends at the colleges. Of the students at the four relatively diverse colleges in the San Diego Community College District (1994), 61% agreed with the statement “I have many friends at this campus.” Similarly, Person and Rosenbaum (2006) reported findings on same-group versus cross-group friendships in Latino campus enclaves. However, few other community college scholars have paid attention to the current debate about the benefits of same-group versus cross-group friendships in research on schools, 4-year colleges, and other institutions (Antonio, 2004). Although previous studies of community college student relations have shown some student interest in contact across cultural divides, there has been little examination of cross-group friendships. In several different California colleges, approximately 70% to 90% of the students reported that “students of similar racial/ethnic backgrounds tend to ‘hang out’ on campus together” (San Diego Community College District, 1994) or “stick with their own clique” (Arnold, 1995). A student at a Los Angeles suburban college said,

I think that the different ethnic groups do everything they can to

separate themselves. In the cafeteria the blacks, the whites, the

brown, and the what have you, seem to have their own tables. But

then again, I only see it sometimes because I am a part-time

student. I do know that in the classroom every ethnic group gets

along and helps each other out when it comes to study groups.

(Mattice, 1994, p. 54)

A basic premise of functional theories is that large groups such as community colleges are founded on communication. Questionnaire survey responses about intergroup relations have produced various findings. When asked about communication among students on campus, students of all racial and ethnic categories generally report that “diverse groups communicate well,” and substantial numbers from all races report a desire to interact with other students outside their cultural group (Mattice, 1994). Similarly, about 70% to 90% of the students at three different colleges in California agreed with various survey items such as “I value making friends with students of other cultural and ethnic backgrounds” (Arnold, 1995; Mattice, 1994; Willett, 2002). When survey questionnaire items are framed differently, however, a shift in results appears. Fewer Whites, as compared to other ethnic groups, expressed a desire for more intergroup communication (Mattice, 1994; Washington State Board, 1997). In a northern California suburban college, 55% of students surveyed agreed that “there is a lack of communication among students of different ethnic/cultural groups at [this college]” (Amold, 1995). Future research on functional theories of community colleges needs to examine additional evidence and interpret this tension with the theories’ basic assumptions about communication.

Some of the studies mentioned previously also explored questions about cultural dominance on college campuses and struggles for resources across racial and ethnic groups. At the few colleges where these matters have been researched, the majority of community college students are not concerned about or familiar with such issues. For example, Arnold (1995) reported that fewer than half of the students at a diverse San Francisco East Bay college responded to the item “Some ethnic groups here dominate or have an unfair influence on the decision-making process in student clubs, organizations, and government.” Of those who did respond, 54% agreed that some ethnic groups dominated or held an unfair advantage on campus (Arnold, 1995). Similarly, at a southern California campus only 35% of White students agreed with the statement, “There is not enough interaction among different racial/ethnic organizations at [the college]” (Mattice, 1994), considerably less than the 51% of Latinos and 61% of Asians and Pacific Islanders who agreed with the item (Mattice, 1994). Student comments from this latter survey illustrate several different points of view:

To strengthen diversity, have more clubs for students.., more

social things. While I think the clubs and organizations for

separate ethnic backgrounds are helpful in educating those who

belong, it also helps to separate and exclude others who may be

interested in learning about different cultural backgrounds. The

more ethnic clubs [the college] has, the greater the segregation

will become among students. (Mattice, 1994, p. 52-53)

A basic necessity in future research on intergroup relations is the use of both conflict and functional theories, and negative as well as positive measures. In the survey items cited above, approximately 70% of the White students expressed interest in friendships and contact with persons of other racial and ethnic groups. But the limited validity of single survey items, which are positively phrased, must be considered in future research. Our analysis suggests that when surveys include a mix of positive- and negative-worded items, more comprehensive findings can be revealed. For example, when students rated the variable survey item “The amount of interaction … between individual students of different racial/ethnic groups” as “too much, about … right, [or] not enough,” differences in responses were striking (Mattice, 1994). Only 29% of Whites reported not enough interaction, compared with 36% of Native Americans, 45% of Latinos, 50% of Asians and Pacific Islanders, and 69% of African Americans surveyed (Mattice, 1994).

Although many White students are interested in more intergroup contact, future research might inquire whether White students are the most isolated from intergroup activity and, if so, why? Past research has not significantly addressed fears, threats, prejudice, discrimination, and the dynamics of intergroup struggles in the colleges. It is time that these theoretical topics become central elements in our research. Future research can also ask why several studies have demonstrated that African American students have been the most active and interested in expanding their contacts with other races and how these interests can be leveraged in developing more civil attitudes and relationships among all groups.

Outcomes and Benefits of Intergroup Relations

There has not been definitive research on the impact of race and ethnic relations, although the limited evidence is consistent with the interpretation that the outcomes are positive. In the Washington State Board (1997) survey, approximately one half of the 13,000 students reported substantial progress in response to a question about how much progress they experienced in “getting along with diverse people,” with minority students about 5% to 10% more likely than White students were to report this level of progress. About half of these students reported that they were “clearer about … their own values” with little variation among ethnic groups on this survey item. Open-ended student survey responses regarding the diversity impact of two Massachusetts colleges included the following:

I have developed a respect for every human being.., learned to take

others into consideration, 1 have grown mostly in my relations with

other ethnic people, and I enjoy it…. I also have a lot more

respect for people of different races … although I have always

been active in anti-racism, I found that I am more sensitive to

this and more receptive to people’s feelings.” (Clements, 1997, pp.


A basic shift needed in community college outcomes research methods is a movement away from these one-shot surveys and case studies toward both qualitative and quantitative longitudinal designs. Simply asking people if the college has had an impact on them offers thin research grounds for confidence in the estimates of impact or the assurance that the outcomes are any different from what the student might have experienced if not at the college.

Future research on outcomes has many promising topics. Will opportunities for supportive and equitable participation for minorities provide the opportunities needed for academic success? Although community colleges are lauded as democratic colleges, research is needed on the consequences of community college diversity relationships for intergroup civility in workplaces and neighborhoods and for the responsibilities of citizenship. Threat and fear are likely to accompany periods of demographic change in the colleges. White flight has been a consequence in the past. Research is needed for strategies that allay fears and prejudice and nourish cooperation.


This review of student ethnic and race relationships has not generated a list of theoretical findings. Other than depicting some campuses as having a positive diversity climate, the research has been too atheoretical, diffuse, exploratory, and based on weak methodological designs to establish any set of conclusions. Furthermore, relatively few relevant publications can be found in scholarly journals because most of the research has been recorded in institutional reports. The evidence in these latter reports has raised many fascinating questions. Therefore, instead of empirical conclusions, we have included suggestions for future research in each section of this review.

We cannot overemphasize the point that this entire field of study requires a new generation of community college theorists and debate to lay the groundwork for future research. For example, there is some evidence that students perceive racial and ethnic cooperation and tolerance on college campuses. Yet there is no community college race relations model that adequately explains why there is so little overt struggle over resources and status among cultural groups. There are fruitful analyses of the relative absence of class conflict in the colleges (Brint & Karabel, 1989; Dougherty, 1994) but not of the muted racial competition and tensions over intergroup domination. Exploratory ethnographies, such as the groundbreaking work by Weis (1985), are very rare in community college research and would be a useful source of theoretical insights on such a topic.

We call for a new wave of studies in the coming decade of shifting demographics and increased immigration to understand relations among diverse racial and ethnic groups and ethnoreligious groups, including Arab and Muslim Americans. Research and action are needed to counter the recent climate of international terrorism and fear that has permitted hostility toward and even vicious oppression of some minorities and international students. This concerted effort needs to take place across all regions of the United States.

We look forward to the ideas that scholars will develop to understand the kinds of relationships that emerge among students in culturally diverse classrooms and campuses. This research can move beyond the description of campus climates to analyzing the determinants and consequences of various diversity climates. The first step in advancing this line of research is having a fundamental commitment to expanding current theoretical frameworks and to applying more rigorous methods to the studies. Longitudinal studies will be particularly useful. We look forward to a lively debate on these issues.


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William Maxwell

Diane Shammas

University of Southern California

William Maxwell is an associate professor at the University of Southern California.

Diane Shammas is a doctoral candidate in educational policy at the University of Southern California.

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