A study of undergraduate experiences in a diversity course
Savatta, Noelle Anne
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Our society is becoming increasingly diverse in terms of many demographic factors including ethnicity, language, and race (Murdock & Hoque, 1999; Swail, 2002). Undergraduate students must also acquire knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to interact effectively with people from diverse groups and be active members of their community, nation, and the world (Banks et al., 2001). With increased emphasis on the importance of diversity coursework in the undergraduate curriculum to prepare students to work appropriately and competently with diverse individuals, little information is available on the experiences of undergraduate students who enroll in these courses. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to examine, from a student perspective, the experience of participating in an undergraduate diversity course at a large, public Predominantly White Institution (PWI) in the southeastern United States. Phenomenology seeks to understand our experiences and the meaning that we make from them (Moustakas, 1994; Patton, 2002). Written feedback was collected at the end of class eight times throughout the course of the semester. Writing assignments focused on students’ understanding and responses to course material were analyzed. Participants completed a pre- and posttest battery that was used to describe the class as a unit. Three main themes emerged from the data. One theme reflected student engagement with the process and showed signs of potential growth. A second theme demonstrated student disengagement from the process and resistance. The last theme was identified as the learning edge, and it is somewhere between the first two themes. Results indicated that students’ engagement with the process ranges from openly struggling with the material throughout the semester, to passive engagement with the course, to total resistance. Students identified "open-mindedness" and willingness to put their thoughts and feelings out on the table as important student factors. Data revealed significant concern with impression management as an obstacle to students participating fully in class discussions and debates.