On the HERI Freshman Survey (2014), where students rated themselves on particular skills or competencies, they gave themselves high ratings on their ability to interact with diverse peers and on their tolerance of others with different beliefs. They are less certain about their knowledge of people from different races or cultures or about their willingness to promote racial understanding. Students rate themselves lowest on openness to having their views challenged, and they are less confident in their ability to discuss and negotiate controversial issues.
The high self-ratings may indicate that students think that sharing space with a diverse group warrants points. They live in a multicultural environment and they may be satisfied with the adage “Live and Let Live.” However, I applaud the self-raters in their discernment when they make a distinction between their ability to be in the same space with people different from themselves in race and culture and being motivated to learn more about the people with whom they share space. I am particularly impressed with these students because they are aware that they have difficulty in knowing how to have conversation or dialogue on controversial issues especially in regard to race and culture.
With approximately 320 million Americans in this nation with projections for that number to increase primarily due to immigration, our students will need to be prepared to function in a world where their opinions are not always reinforced. I sincerely believe that colleges and universities should make students’ acquisition of facilitative and adaptive skills a priority and that we, in student affairs, should begin immediately to reorient our work to give focused attention to helping students acquire adaptive skills such as interpersonal communication, cultural intelligence, and social responsibility.
Social responsibility is broad and includes civic learning and democratic engagement; practical competence; humanitarianism, and ethics. Reorienting our focus in student affairs brings us back to our roots of helping to prepare students to make a contribution to the betterment of society and to assist students in developing to the limits of their potentialities.