Exploring the effects of social perspective-taking and socio-cultural issues discussions on college students' civic identity

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Colleges and universities have a long-standing tradition of preparing students to be civically engaged (Colby, Beaumont, Ehrlich, & Corngold, 2007; Jacoby, 2009; Kezar, 2002). In response to a decline in civic engagement among college students and the greater American public, colleges and universities began offering a wide array of civic engagement efforts designed to increase students' involvement in civic life (Jacoby, 2009). These efforts, such as service-learning, volunteering, and community service opportunities are prolific within higher education. However, the extent to which these civic engagement efforts effectively engage elements of diversity remains mostly unexplored (Dunlap & Webster, 2009; Hero, 2007; Hurtado, 2001, 2003, 2006).

The primary research question in this study examined the role of social perspective-taking and socio-cultural issues discussions on college students' civic identity, while the secondary research question examined whether these relationships varied by race. Using 45,271 cases from the 2009 Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership, structural equation modeling was used to explore a model that included four latent variables: social change behaviors, socio-cultural issues discussions, social perspective-taking, and civic identity. Results from the primary research question showed positive, moderate relationships of social change behaviors on civic identity, social change behaviors on socio-cultural issues discussions, socio-cultural issues discussions on social perspective-taking, and social perspective-taking on civic identity. Weak, positive relationships were found for social change behaviors on social perspective-taking and socio-cultural issues discussions on civic identity. These results indicate that the direct effect of the relationship between engaging in social change behaviors on students' civic identity is much stronger than the indirect effects derived from including socio-cultural issues discussions and social perspective-taking. In addition, engaging in social change behaviors did not predict social perspective-taking and engaging in socio-cultural issues discussions did not predict civic identity. The secondary research question explored the differences by race in the structural paths in the model. This analysis showed significant variant paths between students of color and White students on every path except social change behaviors to socio-cultural issues discussions.