October 31, 2003
Diversity is good for your health
The rhetoric of diversity is in many ways a rhetoric of racial self-help: white people are improved, the logic goes, if they attend schools where there is a high percentage of ethnic and racial minorities. (This is something John Rosenberg has shown repeatedly on his blog Discriminations.) But the the nature of the benefits white people receive from being surrounded by non-white emblems of cultural and genetic difference remains somewhat vague: part psychological (one's sensitivity will be enhanced, and one will be able to get in touch with one's own racism) and part sociological (one will be better able to function in the global marketplace if one has been exposed to cultures other than one's own in school), the rationale for diversity is largely the rationale of prospective, unquantifiable good. Now science is stepping in to change all that. In a new study from Harvard, researchers have shown that white, male college students are less likely to have drinking problems if there are lots of women, non-traditional older students, and non-white students at their school:
Drinking rates among higher-risk drinkers on American college campuses -- those who are white, male and underage -- are significantly lower on college campuses with larger proportions of minority, female and older students. Researchers with the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study reported these findings in a study appearing in the November 2003 issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The study is the first to examine the role of college student demographics and diversity in moderating binge drinking among high-risk students.
Most significantly, however, the findings show that greater diversity on campuses may serve as a risk-protective factor, even for those who were binge drinkers in high school. The study found that incoming white freshmen who did not binge drink in high school were less likely to start binge drinking as college students if their universities had higher proportions of African-American, Latino, Asian or older students. Incoming white freshmen who were binge drinking in high school were less likely to continue drinking in this way when attending schools with higher percentages of minority or older students.
"This study has shown that having a diverse student body on college campuses is an important factor in lowering binge-drinking rates," said Henry Wechsler, principal investigator of the study and director of College Alcohol Studies at the Harvard School of Public Health. "In making decisions about admissions, colleges should recognize the many benefits of greater diversity on campus, including a possible decrease in problem drinking."
The findings suggest practical solutions for predominantly white colleges, including: creating a campus environment that would attract a diverse student body; increasing the numbers of minorities on campus; encouraging more women and older students to live on campus, and in fraternity and sorority houses; and decreasing the heavy concentration on campus of likely high-risk drinkers who are overwhelmingly young, male and white.
Correlation is not causation, but you wouldn't know it from this write-up. If the article accurately represents the study, there seems to be a major logical problem here with the interpretation of cause and effect, and that problem seems to be licensed by the researchers' evident desire to rationalize demographic social engineering on campus by depicting young white men as collectively incapable of making intelligent behavioral decisions and by suggesting that as such they are in need of the moral example of racial and sexual others who possess more discipline and self-restraint. If the racial roles in this study were reversed, people would be screaming racism. But since the racial profiling of the study conforms to the reverse racism built into the logic of diversity, it's able to present itself as both good science and good samaritanism.
UPDATE: John Rosenberg has Don't miss the statistical analysis in the comments.
Thanks to Sound and Fury for the tip.