It is always imperative to identify causes before finding a solution as the wrong solution, brought by misinterpreted cause could bring about further problems. The nature and nurture debate of an individual’s development has been investigated for centuries. Rather than looking at the genetic factors of development, I am more interested in environmental development. This is because understanding the genetic factors cannot help change anything about the people in the present. For example, I know that my IQ is just over the standard rate of 100, perhaps scientists can create new technology or even medicines to aid future infant’s IQ, but this will not likely happen for me. Instead, understanding how the environment influences the way individuals view the world can assist research to improve existing problems more. So here I would like to ask a question: would experiencing diversity help learners to improve their critical thinking skills?
Importance of Experiencing Diversity
The dynamics of personal experiences and the ways of being taught to view differences are what learners will explore to achieve lucidity to a complicated subject. This clarity aids learners to exclude prejudice and discrimination from their beliefs, and also increase their self-confidence (Nagda et al., 2004). Exposure to diversity is crucial for building a good connection with members in domestic or international groups.
Castania (1996) proposed two main dimensions of diversity to help explain the theory, known as international diversity and domestic diversity. International diversity is to explore the cultural differences outside one’s country. Through exploring the outside world, it is possible to heighten individuals’ awareness of differences and gain the opportunities of being outsiders, experiencing how the other social group of individuals behave and think differently from their own perspectives. Fundamentally however, these experiences may give the learners a false message about different cultures if they only examine the diversity by the most manifest differences. An example of this would be that learners can get the impression of Japanese by eating sushi and watching animations, and they then assume that the whole population of Japanese is big anime fans. How can people make assumption by knowing only one or two things about a culture?
Being an international student, I have had the chance to experience the British culture for the past two years. Not only did I stand out in this culture, I also experienced the feeling and the pain of being discriminated as a minority. The discrimination came from those people who seem to have a misunderstanding of my culture. For example, many white adolescents are brought up with social websites (i.e. Facebook) and film portrayals of individuals from different cultures, like Africa and China that were shaped and framed from a restrictive perspective. Asians, in many American movies, were shown or viewed as unintegrated into the western culture, or restricted to lower-class occupations when compared to white people (i.e. restaurant worker, laundry worker, gangsters). This cultural-identity approach negates the authentic relationships and the deeper sides of another culture. Is it possible for media to learn balance between the restrictive images of minority races? If only there was an opportunity for them to communicate and better understand my culture, perhaps then they would know that only a very minority of us consume dog meat and bear paws.
It is also critical to understand the differences inside the community that the learners grow up, because individuals are genetically different from each other, and being influenced by dynamics of environments. Domestic diversity allows learners to explore individual similarities and differences, not just limited to the other ethnic cultures (Castania, 1996). The social groups within one community can be defined by gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, education level, and socio-economic status, etc (Bennett & Bennett, 2004). Having a deep understanding of the domestic differences can increase learners’ sensitivity to international diversity, enabling them the chance to gain a larger identity to represent their country more appropriately.
How Diversity Experiences Help on Critical Thinking
The body of research that investigates on the effect of diversity experience on school outcomes is quite big (Kuklinski, 2006; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). However, there are not many evidences that draw on specific relationship between diversity experience and critical thinking until the last decade. Gurin et al. (2002) brought out this issue, and pointed out that learners tend to participate in more deep and complex modes of thought, when communicating with more individuals from diverse cultures in a school setting. The diverse peers offer unfamiliar situations or new beliefs for learners, which would challenge the current thinking modes in their cognitive development and therefore provide them opportunities to learn.
According to Erikson (1956), experience diversity is most influential for university students because studying university is a developmental stage that provides them much freedom to generate more innovative ideas, and involvement in different social roles (i.e. students, student representatives, volunteers, society members, peer guides). Zuniga, Williams, and Berger (2005) implemented the teaching content, assignments and group discussions as assessments for 597 university students to experience diversity. The finding of their research indicated that students are more willing to accept different perspectives and eliminate their discrimination.
In one of the most recent research, Loes et al (2012) were focused interested in the effect of diversity experience on critical thinking skills. They used 4,501 college students from 19 institutions on critical thinking tests in two periods (fall 2006 and spring 2007). As a result, their findings were aligned with Zuniga, Williams and Berger (2003), that high exposure to diversity help learners to generate a more complex form of thought, or critical thinking. It was a good research because that some problematic methodological processes had been amended. The reliability was higher as they assessed the data not only by collecting questionnaires, but also included the control of any potential confounding variables to minimize the errors (i.e. residence arrangement, and time spent for the class preparation); whereas its sample size was large to allow generalization to the college population.
Application of Diversity Experience in Bangor University
It is acknowledged that psychology research is famous in Bangor University, and I believe that good critical thinking skill is one of the key factors to high quality research. Have our educators applied any diverse experiences in our education program to make us think more critically?
The composition of diverse peers is quite small in the psychology department, as I remembered, the rates of students of other colors is not over 10% for my entry year. However, this is a factor that educators cannot control. Therefore, the educators have to deliberately implement various elements in the design of the course, in order to foster the development of critical thinking. In the year one module Scientific Writing and Communication I/II, one of the assignments is to write on a controversial debate: “do beautiful people deserve to be more successful?”, and it utilised diversity where learners need to think about different perspectives of how to define success. As for year two, the teaching contents of Social Psychology module allow us to understand dimensions of domestic diversity and international diversity, with topics such as “intra-group”, “inter-group”, “prejudice” and “discrimination”, etc. Currently in the third year, students are allowed to select modules based on their own interests. Most of these year three modules provide opportunities for students to involve into debates, since there are seminars/group works for each module. Students can challenge/ perceive new ideas from their peers, that allow them to think in a more complex and critical form.
- Bennett, J. M, & Bennett, M. J. (2004). Developing Intercultural Sensitivity: An Integrative Approach to Global and Domestic Diversity. Retrieved from: http://www.academia.edu/465870/An_Integrative_Approach_to_Global_and_Domestic_Diversity
- Castania, K. (1996). Diversity Fact Sheet #1: What is Diversity?. New York: Cornell University. Retrieved from: http://counties.cce.cornell.edu/chemung/general/publications/what-is-diversity.pdf
- Gurin, P., Dey, E. L., Hurtado, S., & Gurin, G. (2002). Diversity and High Education: Theory and Impact on Educational Outcomes. Harvard Educational Review, 72, 330-366.
- Hu, S., & Kuh, G. D., (2003). Diversity Experiences and College Student Learning and Personal Development. Journal of College Student Development, 4(3), 320-334.
- Kuklinski, J. H. (2006). The scientific study of campus diversity and students’ educational outcomes. Public Opinion Quarterly, 70(1), 99-120.
- Loes, C., Pascarella, E., & Umbach, P. (2012). Effects of Diversity Experiences on Critical Thinking Skills. Who Benefits?. The Journal of Higher Education, 83(1), 1-25.
- Nagda, B. A., Kim, C., & Truelove, Y. (2004). Learning about difference, learning to connect, learning to transgress. Journal of Social Issues, 60(1), 195-214.
- Pascarella, E., & Terenzini, P. (2005). How college affects students: A third decade of research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Zuniga, X., Williams, E. A., & Berger, J. B. (2005). Action-oriented democratic outcomes: The impact of student involvement with campus diversity. Journal of College Student Development, 46, 660-678.