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Study: Racial harmony begins in the dorm room

A new study finds that randomly assigned roommates are equally likely to become friends regardless of their race.

Researchers studying roommate assignments at Berea College in Kentucky found that roommates of different races were just as likely to become friends as roommates of the same race. The finding, published in the October issue of Journal of Labor Economics, suggests that racial harmony on campus might begin with innovative dorm assignments.

The study also found that white students assigned black roommates tended to befriend more black students in college than white students assigned white roommates.

"We find that, while much sorting exists at all stages of college, black and white students are, in reality, very compatible as friends," write the authors, Braz Camargo of Sao Paulo School of Economics and the University of Western Ontario, Ralph Stinebrickner of Berea College and Todd Stinebrickner of the University of Western Ontario.

The researchers looked at surveys of freshmen entering Berea College in 2000 and 2001. Students were surveyed repeatedly over their first three years of college. By the middle of the freshman year, interracial roommates were as likely to list each other as friends as same-race roommates.

By the third year, white students with black roommates reported that 16 percent of their friends were black. By comparison, white students with white roommates reported that 5 percent of their friends were black.

The findings suggest that interracial pairing of students in dorm rooms "can have a substantial influence on interracial friendship interactions," the authors write.

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By Daniel de Vise  | October 18, 2010; 2:32 PM ET
Categories:  Administration, Research, Students  | Tags:  black and white roommates have more diverse friends, interracial college roommates, interracial roommates have more diverse friends, interracial roommates study  
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This required a study?

Back in the '80's, I - a white girl - was tripled in a double room with a pair of cousins - both black - who grew up like sisters. I thought for sure I was going to be the third wheel.

But when I moved out about six weeks into the semester after a slot opened up for me in the next dorm, I only moved out because Cousin #2 had turned into a major party girl. Cousin #1 and I got along famously, since we were both declared science majors (different majors), and both relatively quiet and pretty studious by nature. We were both trying to figure out if we could get Cousin #2 to move.

We weren't tight friends, but whenever we saw each other on campus until the day we graduated, we always stopped to catch up and wish each other well. Because you realize quickly in college - the people who share your attitude towards college are going to be your best friends, especially living in close quarters. If we shared a major, I'm sure I would have seen her more often.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | October 18, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

A study like this is worthwhile, in this era of increasing segregation in schools at all levels. My public high school is integrated, and I see every day that friendships form among students who share a lab team in my classroom.

Daniel, one factor that works against dormroom friendship is the differing access that students have to real colleges, depending on their economic circumstances.

Do you subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, perhaps? I am tempted tonight, but I can't bring myself to pay them over $100 to read this.

It would be appropriate if you read the story, and give us a rundown on the Florida Attorney General's investigation of civil rights violations at these for-profit "College, Inc." chain schools. Because a couple of them belong to your employers:

"2nd UPDATE: Florida AG Investigating Five For-Profit Schools "

"NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--The Florida Attorney General's office has launched a civil investigation into five for-profit colleges, including four publicly traded schools, seeking information on potential misrepresentations in financial aid, recruitment and other areas.

The state is looking into allegations at Washington Post Co.'s (WPO) Kaplan Inc.; Education Management Corp. (EDMC) and certain of its Argosy schools; ..."

"To continue reading, subscribe now."

Posted by: mport84 | October 19, 2010 9:05 PM | Report abuse

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