Campus / News / October 5, 2011

Defending campus diversity

Big campuses lead to more choices, but that is not always a good thing when it comes to friends, says a recent study published in the Group Processes & Intergroup Relations journal.

The study consisted of researchers approaching pairs of students in public areas and giving them questionnaires that asked for their views on a variety of topics, information on their lifestyles and how close they felt to the other person they were with at the time.

According to the study, the colleges with large student populations allow students the ability to find more people who are similar to themselves, which insulated them from relationships with people they had less in common with. Smaller schools, it seemed, pushed people of different interests together, and, in a surprising twist, apparently caused tighter friendships. The lead researcher, Angela Bahns, assistant professor of psychology at Wellesley College, said “[Students on small campuses] know they’re stuck with who they’ve got, and they make the best of it.”

Another author of the study, Christian Crandall, a professor of social psychology at the University of Kansas, claimed that tighter relationships were just natural in more intimate settings.

Still, one should be wary of the results of the article for a couple of reasons. First, with only five schools used (one large and four small), it may be the study, not the friendships, that lacked diversity. Also, it seems like the researchers failed to consider that on a small campus, it could just be easier to meet up with one’s close friends more often.

Ultimately, the results should not be discounted; Knox students tended to agree with the study’s conclusion. Knox’s size has provided a number of students a sense of community they feel they would lack at a large school. Freshman Ian Moody pointed out that he really enjoyed the size, because he could find people easier.

“I can wander aimlessly and almost always find someone I know.”

Fellow freshman and friend of Moody, Emma Robillard, clarified by saying, “We’ll hang out with anyone.”

Senior Kate Heitkamp also concurred, pointing out that because of the size of the college, groups on campus are more tight knit, which is important because “there’s so much to learn from people’s [diverse] experiences,” so being pushed closer is definitely positive.

Other students disagreed slightly with the article’s conclusion. Sophomore Nicole Holtzman said she feels as though the friends she has now would be the same even if she went to a bigger school; she does not think she is just making the best of the people she is got. Holtzman did clarify, though, that her friends are a diverse group that she may not have been able to meet if she had gone to a larger school.

Sophomore James Sheppard also disagreed slightly, saying that he met most of his friends through similar activities. It is not as though he just meets random people and instantly becomes friends with them, a thought echoed by junior Amanda Lee.

All in all, while students and researchers are slightly at odds with the study’s results, the one thing everyone seems to agree with is that friendships are definitely closer on a small campus, so while big campuses give more choices, they seem to remove chances of close relationships.

Ian Malone

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