Why "Stumbling Towards Diversity"?
Diverse views on diversity.
Posted August 15, 2018
The Census projections are clear: The United States is experiencing a demographic and sociological shift in diversity. By 2020, ethnic/racial minority youth will comprise over 50 percent of those under 18 years of age. In the coming decades, the Census projects that ethnic/racial minority adults will comprise the majority of United States residents.
But how do Americans feel about diversity? Not surprisingly, reactions to diversity reflect the nation’s diversity. For some Americans, movement towards diversity is a welcome change. For others, diversity is unsettling. A recent study found that some Americans view the nation’s impending diversity as threatening the foundational structure of this country, potentially leading to increased racial segregation and explicit racism. Indeed, national events and administrative policies reflect these feelings and sentiments.
As a developmental psychologist, I am optimistic that our nation’s youth offer a glimmer of hope. Research among elementary-age children finds that American children know that social exclusion based on gender, race, or ability is not morally excusable. Further, studies of middle school students find that diversity has developmental benefits in the form of decreased vulnerability and loneliness. Interacting with same and different race peers has benefits for how youth feel about themselves, how they perform in school, and how they form an identity.
Why might children be more receptive to diversity? Although children recognize the categories of gender and race by preschool, their cognitive abilities are not fully developed. Young children are actively trying to make sense of the social patterns in their home, school, neighborhood, and broader environments. They simply do not attach the same meaning to the social categories of race as adults do. The values and hierarchies that societies impose on social groups develop in later adolescence and young adulthood as a result of socialization and cognitive maturity.
In the same way, diversity outside of a specific context is devoid of meaning. Have you ever traveled to a new country or a different state and observed something new about yourself? Diversity is simply bringing together individuals from various backgrounds, beliefs, values and perspectives. In fact, the science of diversity originates in ecology. Ecologists quantified biodiversity among plant and animal species before social scientists applied diversity indices on human populations.
As someone who has committed her professional career to the study of how ethnic/racial minority youth make sense of who they are in a racialized and stratified society, I aim to contribute knowledge and science to how we can promote inclusion and equity for all youth. In this blog, I hope to share psychological research on issues of diversity, race, and inequality with a broader audience with the goal of promoting and supporting the optimal development of American youth. With our focus on diversity, let’s not lose sight of our commonalities. For all the ways in which we differ from each other, we also have shared experiences. Emphasizing what we share rather than where we differ may help us embrace opportunities and overcome the obstacles as the United States stumbles towards diversity.
Craig, M. A., & Richeson, J. A. (2014). More diverse yet less tolerant? How the increasingly diverse racial landscape affects white Americans’ racial attitudes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(6), 750-761.
Juvonen, J., Kogachi, K., & Graham, S. (2017). When and how do students benefit from ethnic diversity in middle school?. Child development.
Killen, M., & Stangor, C. (2001). Children's social reasoning about inclusion and exclusion in gender and race peer group contexts. Child development, 72(1), 174-186.
Simpson, E. H. (1949). Measurement of diversity. nature.