Fewer expect diverse friends

The University of California, Los Angeles conducted the annual survey.

by Cati Vanden Breul

In a 2004 survey of incoming first-year college students around the country, more students than ever reported they did not expect to frequently socialize with people outside of their own race or ethnic group during college.

According to the annual survey by the University of California, Los Angeles, 37 percent of students expect to only hang out with members of their race.

In addition, only 29 percent of students said promoting racial diversity was an essential goal.

“That’s one of the most discouraging things I’ve heard recently,” said Victoria Coifman, a professor in the University of Minnesota’s African American and African studies department.

“If you don’t expect to be meeting people of other races, why would you say it isn’t a problem?”

She said society needs to do a lot more in terms of learning about diversity.

“You can do that by having a really culturally diverse curriculum and taking more coursework across cultures,” Coifman said.

In her West African studies course, Coifman said, she facilitated a discussion on different religions, including Islam and Christianity.

She said the students were very open and respectful, but she had a sense most students do not get an opportunity to speak openly about beliefs across cultures.

“It’s probably because of the war in Iraq and the fallout from homeland security,” she said.

Many Americans are learning about Islam for the first time, Coifman said, and it’s in a very hostile context.

“It doesn’t permit for dialogue,” she said.

In a similar survey conducted in 2003 at the University of Minnesota, 66 percent of students reported chances were “very good” they would socialize with someone of another race or ethnic group.

Malik Harfi, vice president of the Muslim Student Association, said he feels comfortable living in Minnesota and hasn’t been harassed because of his religion.

Harfi said racial tolerance has been improving in the United States since the 1990s. He said that might be why so few students reported promoting racial diversity as a goal.

“People think it’s not so bad now, so they don’t need to put in as much effort. But I think that might come back to haunt us,” Harfi said.

Other students on campus are involved in diversity issues of their own.

University of Minnesota senior Landon Nelson is in an interracial relationship with 2003 graduate Veronica Okokon. Nelson said he’s had some trouble with people not accepting their relationship, but nothing serious.

“I think some people just don’t like to see it,” he said. “They might say things or make comments.”

Okokon said most people are accepting, but they do sometimes look at her and Nelson “strangely.”

But she said the experience is positive.

“For me, it’s a good experience to date different sorts of people,” she said.

“I don’t date based on race. It’s not a factor for me.”