At Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, students in the Social Work department have the opportunity to complete a research project as part of a hybrid research/statistics course. Each semester, the research project is driven by student interest. In the Spring of 2012, the research was focused on the diversity of student experiences and openness to diversity.
The research entitled “Wildcat nation: Open to diversity?” used questions from the College Student Experience Questionnaire (CSEQ) along with demographic questions to analyze a student’s openness to and experience with diversity. Through the use of social media and email, students were directed to a link to a survey to answer questions about diversity.
A sample of n=286 respondents were included in the research. The research found that students at WSU were open to diversity and had experience with diverse interactions. We further compared respondents on the variable of religion and whether the respondent grew up in Utah. Because the predominant religion in Utah is LDS (Mormon), the student researchers felt this was an important variable to examine. The variable of religion was collapsed into three categories, LDS, other, and none. The research showed that the respondents that identified LDS as their primary religion had a lower openness score compared to those with no religion or other religion.
The same results held true for experience with diversity: those identifying LDS as their religion had less experience with diversity than those with no or other religion. With regards to growing up in Utah, there was no difference with regards to openness to diversity. However, there was a statistically significant difference between those growing up in Utah on the experience with diversity scale. People growing up in Utah were less likely to have experience with diversity than those that did not grow up in Utah.
The research found that students are open to diversity but do not have a great deal of experience with diversity. There is a need to expand opportunities for diverse interactions on the collegiate level. Because Utah is a state unique in its religious demographic, students prior coming to college may have more limited experiences, putting the onus of responsibility on the academic environment to expand these experiences especially since students appear to be open to these experiences.
Kerry Kennedy, MSW, PhD, is an Associate Professor of social work at Weber State University (Ogden, UT) in the Department of Social Work and Gerontology. She graduated from The Ohio State University in 2005 with a PhD in social work where her research focused on substance abuse and motivation. She maintains a Licensed Clinical Social Work license. Her current research interests are Mental Health Court and student-led research projects. Dr. Kennedy teaches Social Statistics, Research Methods, and Micro Practice. Dr. Kennedy can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.