Curry School hosts UCLA Prof. Sandra Graham

Talk addresses impacts of student racial diversity

The Curry School invited Dr. Sandra Graham, an education professor at the University of California-Los Angeles, to speak Friday as part of its Education Lectureship Series. Graham discussed the recent research she has conducted demonstrating that racial and ethnic diversity within schools affect the social and academic development of minority children.

Graduate Education student Lauren Mims said the biggest question Graham's research is grappling with is the effects of diversity on societal environments.

"I think [Graham's] biggest research question is [not] ‘Is diversity beneficial?’ but how diversity is beneficial," Mims said. "And I think that pushes everyone in the field to really start thinking about what's going on in our schools and how we can kind of promote child development for all children."

Graham presented different surveys she used during her research on minority children in middle school in order to determine how they felt in relation to children of the majority race in their school.

"It's very hard to change traits, positive or negative," Graham said. "So many of the prejudice reduction programs focus on getting rid of stereotypes, and it's really hard to change stereotypes."

Graham said one of the outcomes of her research is the finding that, out of all ethnic groups in the U.S., Asian American students have the most negative attitudes towards African American students.

Additionally, her data suggests that when the representation of African Americans increases within a school population from 10 percent to 50 percent the attitudes of all ethnic groups become more negative toward African American students.

However, Graham spoke in favor of diversity, saying that with racial diversity there are more opportunities for children to have relationships with those outside of their own racial group, decreasing the power and presence of social stereotypes.

"Diversity fosters cross-ethnic friendships," Graham said.

Graham said her research shows that complex social identities — such as a student who identifies as an African American, an academic honor student and a soccer player — allows for fluidity in the interactions between ethnic groups.

Graham said the feeling of "belonging" is constituted not only through the representation of an ethnic group in a school, but also in classes.

She said being in the racial minority or majority in a class affects the types of classes students will take, such as honors or a basic-level class.

Sara Rimm-Kaufman, a professor in Educational Psychology and Applied Developmental Science at the Curry School, said the development of the idea of complex identity was the most fascinating part of the research for her.

"Sometimes we think it’s better to have it simple [but it is] not necessarily," Rimm-Kaufman said. "Human change is a complex process. It's not black and white, it's not clean and tidy and we need to understand the complexity of identity development."

She said she thought it was research like Graham's that would ultimately allow for the improvement of schools and the condition they provide for their students.

"[This research] poses a lot of interesting challenges that need to be addressed and understood ... like what can schools do to improve the quality of experience for students and the engagement in learning and improve practices of teachers,” Rimm-Kaufman said.

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