Dimensions of Diversity and Perception of Having Learned From Individuals From Different Backgrounds: The Particular Importance of Racial Diversity


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Abstract

PurposeSelective higher education institutions that take race into account in admissions decisions must be able to demonstrate that their policy is justified by a compelling governmental interest, is narrowly tailored, and is the least restrictive means for achieving that interest. The authors thus investigate whether, among medical students, the association between racial diversity (as distinct from other forms of diversity) and learning from individuals from different backgrounds is unique.MethodThe authors examined six dimensions of diversity, including racial/ethnic diversity, among the 2010, 2011, and 2012 cohorts of fourth-year medical students in the United States. They also examined students’ responses to two Medical Student Graduation Questionnaire items pertaining to learning from individuals from different backgrounds. They modeled the association between each of the school-level dimensions of diversity and the student-level responses to having learned from others with different backgrounds, and they assessed whether associations vary across different groups of students.ResultsRacial/ethnic diversity is unique in its very strong association with student perceptions of having learned from others who are different. The association between racial/ethnic diversity and student perceptions of having learned from others who are different is especially strong for members of historically underrepresented minority groups.ConclusionsCompared with other forms of diversity, racial/ethnic diversity has a unique association with students’ perceptions of learning from others who are different. This association is of particular relevance to admissions and diversity policies in an era of strict scrutiny of these policies.

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