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Social Awareness Essay

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Through Interactions with Diverse Peers by Shirley R. Greene Mark Kamimura University of Michigan Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education Portland, Oregon, November 12-15, 2003 The work reported herein is supported under the National Institute for Student Achievement, Curriculum and Assessment program, agreement number R305T990402-00, CFDA/Subprogram No. :84. 305T, as administered by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), U. S.

Department of Education. The findings and opinions expressed in this report do not reflect6 the position and policies of OERI or the U. S. Department of Education. Social Awareness INTRODUCTION Social awareness has it roots in the second wave of the feminist movement (Bickford & Reynolds, 2002). It is viewed as one of the key components of consciousness-raising, the other being social action. For many researchers, awareness about issues affecting the community or raising social consciousness has always been a precursor to social movement(Steinem, 1983; Swift, 1990).

The internal and external survival of organizations, particularly higher education institutions, requires that they engage their members and encourage them to develop a social awareness that will enable them to reach out to the broader community on these issues. More recent research conducted by Astin (1998), revealed a decline in the percentage of first-year students who voted in a student election and expressed interest in “participating in a community action program,” “promoting racial understanding,” and “becoming involved with programs to clean up the environment” (p. 32) Many traditional college-aged students lack the social awareness that leads to social change (Bickford & Reynolds, 2002). Although they can easily identify the icons of social movements, such as the civil rights movement, they seldom appreciate the needs, impetus, and historical specificity that drives social change movements. Furthermore, they fail to understand how a democracy works and exhibit little interest in the U. S. political system (Giroux, 1987; Hepburn, 1985).

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Reformers view students who lack this type of knowledge, understanding and interest as lacking sensitivity to the needs of others and a willingness to be active citizens (Swift, 1990). 2 From a research perspective, social awareness is an important facet of student development to understand because of the recognized links between social awareness and social change, as well as the development of critical thinking skills (Tsui, 2000). From a practice perspective, higher

Social Awareness education institutions are being called upon to create an informed citizenry capable of understanding and addressing a myriad of social issues. 3 Steinem (1983) defines the social change process as follows: “naming the problem; speaking out, consciousness raising, and researching; creating alternate structures to deal with it; and beginning to create or change society’s laws and structures to solve the problem for the majority. ” This paper focuses solely on those aspects related to increased awareness, specifically “naming the problem, speaking out, consciousness raising, and researching (Ibid). We define social awareness in terms of the importance that students attribute to: 1) speaking up against social injustice; 2) creating awareness of how people affect the environment; 3) promoting racial tolerance and respect; and 4) making consumer decisions based on a company’s ethics. These dimensions constitute the type of social awareness that students need to develop during their college years, in order to function well in a complex and diverse society.

REVIEW OF LITERATURE The relevance of exploring the development of social awareness among college students is supported by several theoretical and empirically-based studies. First, we examine literature linking social awareness development to student attitudes and cognitive development (Piaget, 1975; Tsui, 2000; Perry, 1970). Second, we review literature that discusses the influence of interaction with diverse peers on student awareness, growth, and development.

Linking Social Awareness, Attitudes and Cognitive Development Students tend to develop their social and cognitive skills through social interaction with others. When interacting with diverse peers, students are able to engage in debates and actively confront the differences between their own point of view and that of others (Piaget, 1975). In addition, they develop the ability to manage the strong emotions that conflict can engender. Social Awareness These cognitive and affective processes are relevant to the development of the dimensions associated with our social awareness measurement.

Tsui (2000) posits that social awareness and consciousness, along with political awareness, directly influences college students’ development of critical thinking skills. This researcher concluded “awareness of political and social affairs may be relevant to critical thinking development because discussion about such topics tend to elicit more interest and participation among students (p. 432). ” Other research suggests that students who possess critical thinking skills demonstrate a greater degree of social and political consciousness.

These students demonstrate a political awareness or concern for general social issues rather than a concern with 4 their own world and immediate social group (Enright, Lapsley, and Shukla, 1979; Hurtado et al. , 2002). During their college career, students are exposed to various social, political, and personal experiences that challenge their current view of the world. When students confront the dissonance between views presented to them and their own perspective, they move from being dualistic to more complex thinkers (Perry, 1970).

In turn, they are able to accomplish the following: demonstrate perspective-taking skills, exhibit sociocentric behaviors, construct reflective judgment skills and broaden their perspectives concerning social issues (Selman, 1980; Perry, 1970). Other scholars similarly note how interaction across difference can be linked with cognitive growth in multiple dimensions. King and her collaborators discuss a theoretical connection between cognitive development and multicultural thinking (King & Baxter Magolda, 1996; King & Shuford, 1996).

Adding further support for the exploration of cognitive, affective and attitudinal variables in our model, several studies utilizing national longitudinal data show student interaction with Social Awareness 5 diverse peers is linked with increases in cultural knowledge and commitment to promoting racial understanding (Antonio, 1998; Hurtado, 2001; Milem, 1994). In their work on intergroup contact theory, Stephan and Stephan (1996) discuss the effect that the mediators of contact— including cultural knowledge—have on interaction across differing social identity groups (Cushner & Brislin, 1996; Triandis, 1972).

They also cite research on attitudes in their discussion of the mediators of intergroup contact and emphasize the importance of values in what they call personal factors within their model (Ashmore, 1970; Katz, Wackenhut, & Hass, 1986; Stephan & Rosenfield, 1978; Stephan & Stephan, 1996; Wagner & Schonbach, 1984; Weigel & Howes, 1985). Social Awareness and Interaction with Diverse Peers More recent research has also explored the theoretical connections between interaction with diverse peers and dimensions of social awareness. Springer, et al. 1995) found that students who interacted with diverse peers reported more frequent discussion of complex social issues, including such things as the economy, peace, human rights equality, and justice. A few other works have addressed the impact of interacting with diverse others on racial understanding. Astin (1993), in a multi-dimensional study of college impact, found that socializing with someone from a different racial background caused increases in cultural awareness, commitment to racial understanding, and commitment to the environment.

Later research by Chang (1996) confirmed the relationship between diversity and racial understanding. These studies indicate that students who interact with diverse peers also demonstrate beliefs (importance of speaking up against social injustice and creating awareness of how people affect the environment) and values (desire to promote racial tolerance and respect) consistent with the development of social awareness. Social Awareness A recent study of the University of Michigan and Harvard University law school students revealed that discussions with students from diverse backgrounds significantly influenced their views of the U.

S. criminal justice system, as well as their views regarding civil rights and conditions within various social and economic institutions (Orfield and Whitla,, 2001). Fifty three percent of the students also stated “diversity in the classroom allowed students to confront stereotypes on social and political issues all or most of the time. ” Students who develop views and dispositions associated with social awareness are better prepared to take on social roles as decision-makers and agents of social change.

METHODS Conceptual Framework Given that a theoretical framework for studying the development of social awareness has yet to be developed, we designed a conceptual model that would take into account varying sources of influence as suggested by Astin (1993), Chickering (1969), Chickering and Reisser (1993), and Tinto (1975). These sources include: (1) the preenrollment characteristics of students, (2) students’ academic experiences, and (3) students’ social or nonacademic experiences including interactions with major agents of socialization on campus (Chickering, 1969).

As suggested by Astin (1993) and Chickering (1969), various pre-enrollment characteristics of students must be considered when examining the impact of experience in college. In order to 6 clearly assess the impact of college interaction with diverse peers on social awareness, this study controls for several background characteristics including: precollege social awareness, academic ability, race/ethnicity, gender, and mother’s level of education. In addition to pre-college characteristics, Chickering (1969) emphasized assessing the impact of students’ academic and non-academic experiences, by examining not only the types of

Social Awareness involvements but also the extent and nature of interactions within these experiences. Milem 7 (1994) has also suggested that certain classroom experiences, such as dialogue between students of different backgrounds and beliefs will encourage students to reflect more on issues of race and diversity. Hurtado et al. (1994) operationalized interactions with diverse peers as how frequently a student engages in activities with someone of a different race/ethnicity. The findings suggest that the more students interact with peers from different racial/ethnic backgrounds, the more open they are to diverse perspectives.

We also utilized the research investigating how students learn and acquire skills and dispositions through interactions with others (Piaget, 1975; Selman, 1980). The model we developed was based on the items identified in the theoretical and empirical works discussed above. Additional items were added based upon their hypothesized significance to the model. In summary, we hypothesize that precollege level of social awareness, background characteristics, college experiences (i. e. academic, non-academic, and interaction with diverse peers), and attitudinal and cognitive growth measures influence the development of social awareness in college students. Data Source In an effort to better understand how colleges and universities are preparing students to participate successfully in an increasingly diverse society, the Diverse Democracy Project, funded by the U. S. department of Education was launched in 1999. This multi-method study utilized a longitudinal survey, administered to students at the beginning of their first-year and at the end of the second year of college at ten public universities.

The universities involved in the project were chosen based on the following criteria: (a) a strong commitment to diversity as evidenced by the university’s mission statement and the presence of a number of diversity Social Awareness initiatives on campus; (b) recent success in diversifying their student body; and (c) engagement in significant community-building activities with a diverse student body. 8 The current study seeks to increase our understanding of factors that influence students’ level of social awareness during the first two years of college.

To accomplish this, we used data from the longitudinal survey that includes approximately 3,496 respondents from the Fall 2000 entering classes at the nine participating institutions. These respondents were randomly selected to receive a survey either during summer orientation prior to starting college or via mail during their first semester of college. Respondents to the first survey were mailed a follow-up survey in the Winter of 2002. Both surveys were designed to elicit responses pertaining to constructs that measure cognitive, social-cognitive, and civic outcomes.

Sample Participants in this study included 3,496 students who took the first-year and follow-up survey. White students comprised the largest group with 69. 1% of the students, followed by Asian American students (15. 8%), African-American students (4. 8%), Latino students (9. 1%), and Native American students (1. 2%). Female responses were higher than their male counterparts (61%). Mother’s educational level for respondents was high school (19. 3%), college (38. 9%) and graduate school (52. 1%). In this sample, the mean SAT score was 1169. 7 (400-1600 scale) and standard deviation of this score was 164. 9.

The SAT score includes the combined math and verbal SAT scores and ACT scores, which were converted into a comparable SAT score. Measures The names, types, and scales for each of the variables used in the model are identified in Table 1. The outcome variable in this analysis, social awareness, was derived from the follow- Social Awareness up survey. This variable represents a scaled index of multiple items (i. e. , speaking up against social injustice, creating awareness of how people affect the environment, promoting racial tolerance and respect, and making consumer decisions based on an company’s ethics).

The social awareness variable had an alpha reliability of . 72. The remaining items in the model and their scale reliabilities are shown in Table 3. The model estimated in this study included five different variable sets: (1) students’ level of precollege social awareness, (2) background characteristics of students, (3) attitudinal dispositions, (4) cognitive indicators, and (5) students’ college experiences (academic and nonacademic) including interactions with major agents of socialization on campus (Chickering, 1969).

After entering the pre-college social awareness control variable, the second block of independent variables to be entered into the model was student background measures, including gender, race/ethnicity, mother’s level of education and SAT scores. This information was derived from institutional data provided by each of the ten schools participating in the study. Another background measures included a variable representing mother’s level of education. This variable was dummy coded so that graduate school completion served as the reference group. Attitudinal dispositions were measured by two scaled index items including identity awareness (? . 72) and tolerance of lesbian, gay and bisexual persons (? = . 76). Cognitive indicators were measured by three scaled index items representing cultural awareness (? = . 70), interest in social issues (? = . 67), and Fletcher’s measure of attributional complexity (? = . 87). The final block of independent variables recognizes the relationship between student outcomes and student-student interaction (Astin, 1984; Weidman, 1989). Three variables were included in this block labeled college experiences (i. e. , classroom experiences, informal 9 Social Awareness 10 interactions (? = . 76), and interaction with diverse peers).

Drawing from Astin (1993), Milem (1994), Springer et al. (1996), and Pascarella et al. (1996), we chose to incorporate frequency of interactions with diverse others into the model because of the hypothesized relationship with the outcome variable. The academic experiences of students were incorporated through a classroom experience variable that measured the number of diversity courses taken by respondents. Students’ social or nonacademic experiences were measured by a variable representing informal interactions. Analytic Procedures/Analysis Data analysis for this study required two steps.

First, exploratory factor analyses were conducted on all items within various constructs of the survey instruments. By using principal axis factoring and orthogonal rotation methods, we were able to reduce the number of measured variables for analyses. When necessary, survey items were reversed coded. A reliability analysis using Cronbach’s alpha was conducted for each factor. Six of the factor-derived variables were included in our regression analyses (see Table 3). Factor loadings that contained a score of at least . 422 or higher were retained in the development of subsequent summated rating scales (i. . , pre-college social awareness, college social awareness, social identity awareness, cultural awareness, and interest in social issues, Fletcher’s attributional complexity, tolerance for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons, and interactions in an informal context). Second, multiple regression analyses were employed to estimate the coefficients of the model. Independent variables reflecting precollege social awareness, student background characteristics, student acquired characteristics, academic experiences, and social experiences were entered in five blocks.

Social awareness prior to college, gender, race/ethnicity, academic ability, and Social Awareness 11 mother’s level of education were used as control variables. Utilizing this approach, the relative contribution for each of the five blocks of independent variables could be examined. RESULTS The standardized beta coefficients for each independent variable are presented in Table 4. These standardized beta coefficients (regression weights) may be interpreted as direct effects of individual independent variables on the dependent variable, holding all other independent variables constant.

Table 4 also presents each block of variables including the unstandardized beta coefficients of variables not yet added to the model. Examining the final regression model indicates that the model fits the data well, accounting for 41. 8% of the variance in social awareness. The results presented below are organized according to the five blocks of predictor variables in the model, including precollege social awareness, students background characteristics, attitudinal dispositions, cognitive indicators, academic and non-academic college experiences.

Students’ Background Characteristics When entered in the equation, the precollege variables explained 28. 5% of the variance in social awareness. As shown in Table 4, pre-college social awareness and students who identified themselves as Asian American were the only two significant predictors of social awareness in terms of precollege characteristics. As expected, the level of social awareness prior to college was the strongest significant predictor in the model, accounting for 27. 8% of the variance (p

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