EXPLORING THE RELATIONSHIPS AMONG LIVING-LEARNING PROGRAMS, PEER INTERACTION, CRITICAL THINKING, AND CIVIC ENGAGEMENT ON COLLEGE STUDENT OPENNESS TO DIVERSITY

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2005-05-25

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Title of Dissertation: EXPLORING THE RELATIONSHIPS AMONG LIVING-LEARNING PROGRAMS, PEER INTERACTION, CRITICAL THINKING, AND CIVIC ENGAGEMENT ON COLLEGE STUDENT OPENNESS TO DIVERSITY

Susan Longerbeam, Doctor of Philosophy, 2005

Dissertation directed by: Assistant Professor Karen Kurotsuchi Inkelas

Department of Counseling and Personnel Services

This study uses a college impact model to examine how living-learning programs and other college environments contribute to students' perceptions of growth in openness to diversity. The study tests the Allport (1954) contact hypothesis that meaningful, equal status relationships among college students working towards common goals in the context of institutional support enhance their openness to diversity. The population is undergraduate students in 274 living-learning programs in 34 universities, representing a broad range of programs and universities. Openness to diversity is defined as the awareness and appreciation of other ideas and values, and of racial and cultural differences.

The Residence Environment Survey of the National Study of Living-Learning Programs is used to understand how living-learning programs contribute to 12, 241 students' openness to diversity from several different perspectives, by examining differences in students' perceptions by (a) thematic types of living-learning programs, (b) structural elements of living-learning programs, and (c) involvement in living-learning programs nested within a comprehensive conceptual model of college impact on openness to diversity. The study uses mean differences, cluster analyses, and multiple regression analyses to examine openness to diversity from these perspectives.

The study determines that students in upper-division living-learning programs have higher perceived growth in openness to diversity than students in most other program types on openness to diversity. The cluster solution distinguishes among the groups of living-learning programs, but there are no mean differences in openness to diversity among the cluster types. Hierarchical multiple linear regression analysis indicates several items successfully contribute to the model for openness to diversity. They include gender; standardized test scores (negative relationship); socially supportive residence halls; majors in applied social sciences; class level; peer interaction; undergraduate students as mentors in living-learning programs; multicultural programming in living-learning programs, critical thinking; and civic engagement.

The primary implication is that student affairs and higher education professionals contribute to student learning by creating environments that are conducive to positive, meaningful interaction among diverse peers. Resources should be allocated to facilitate meaningful, purposeful peer interaction in living-learning environments primarily during the first two years of college.

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