As we watch the racial and social justice issues being addressed at the University of Missouri, we are reminded that college campuses truly are microcosms of our broader society and face the same issues and challenges. Within our institutions for higher learning, we have a unique opportunity for creating and facilitating honest discourse around the issues, and then identifying specific strategies to build a more welcoming and inclusive community. This important work of expanding each person’s opinion tolerance – the comfort or acceptance students have (and that we ourselves have) with others who think differently on major social issues, including race – isn’t easy nor is it accomplished quickly.
College students’ opinion tolerance—a brief look at the data
Examining student demographics, attitudes, and motivations can be helpful in understanding today’s tensions. Ruffalo Noel Levitz annually publishes the National Freshman Attitudes Report, which explores 85 noncognitive attitudes and motivations of nearly 100,000 college freshmen. Every two years, the data are presented by race and ethnicity, in addition to gender, institution type, and age. Understanding these data can inform campus-specific conversations on the issues. For example, as indicated in the chart below, nearly two-thirds of Black/African-American students have high levels of tolerance for people who have different opinions about social issues.
Next, put this in the context of the strong commitment that students have to earning a college degree and to making the sacrifices necessary to achieve that goal:
(These results are from the Addendum by Race/Ethnicity, available for download with the 2015 National Freshman Attitudes Report.)
Together, what these data suggest is that this commitment to earning a degree coupled with strong levels of tolerance are strengths that can help foster the necessary dialogues on college campuses about improving conditions for students of color.