A story on Inside Higher Ed today alerts us to evidence that college students tend to lose their professed “commitment” to “promoting racial understanding” the longer they are in school. This seems like much ado about nothing to me. Naïve, idealistic freshmen are more apt to give a politically correct answer than are seniors, who have seen that all the talk about “promoting racial understanding” is just talk. The way the question is asked almost requires the respondent to wear a scarlet A for admitting that he isn’t really interested in (and probably has no idea how to go about) promoting racial understanding. It’s remarkable that any significant number of students ever say that it is not important to them.
Roger Clegg has a good comment on the story:
Suppose that the question asked was “How important to you personally is helping to promote world peace?” or “How important to you personally is helping to promote good dental hygiene?” or some other question. Would the fact that the numbers changed somewhat over time be taken as evidence of anything? In any event, if the numbers go down slightly, there are many explanations why it may be little cause for concern, including (a) freshmen are more easily intimidated into giving the answer that they know they are supposed to give than seniors are, or (b) natural adolescent resentment at being beaten over the head by grownups about anything for four years, or (c) a growing realization that, gee, racial understanding is actually pretty good and not something that I need to worry about a lot, or (d) it’s not a problem that I personally can do a lot about and it would be hypocritical for me to declare that it is a high priority for me compared to, say, finding a rewarding job, getting married and raising a family, and paying off my student loans.