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Comfort versus discomfort in interracial/interethnic interactions: Group practices on campus

Ruth Sessler Bernstein (School of Business, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Washington, USA)
Paul Salipante (Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 15 June 2015

Abstract

Purpose

Responding to findings of psychological discomfort impeding interracial/interethnic attitude and skill development, the purpose of this paper is to investigate group-level factors as possible antecedents to individuals’ comfort in interracial/interethnic interactions. Among individuals experiencing diversity during a key developmental stage in life, college students, the study inquires whether group practices that foster a sense of belonging and inclusion among all members differentiate comfortable from uncomfortable interracial/interethnic interactions. As part of the analysis, the construct interracial/interethnic comfort is developed and tested as a measure of interactions that are experienced with ease and confidence.

Design/methodology/approach

Scale development methods and structural equation modeling were used to analyze survey data from 360 members of a voluntary service organization at 50 US colleges.

Findings

The structural equation analyses indicate that the group practices – shared superordinate purpose, a welcoming climate for diverse members, and practices for structuring interactions among all group members – have significant and important effects on interracial/interethnic comfort, which was found to be a reliable construct. The relationship between each of the group practices and individuals’ interracial/interethnic comfort was either totally or partially mediated by the individuals’ sense of belonging, a strong form of inclusion.

Practical implications

The results indicate group practices that possess the capacity to contribute to students’ interracial/interethnic attitude and skill development by creating solidarity and comfort in their interactions with diverse others. Institutions can make efforts to further individuals’ cultural development by stimulating the use of these practices in campus groups.

Originality/value

This study identifies concepts for understanding and addressing the known, problematic phenomenon of psychological discomfort in settings of diversity. These constructs offer new directions for research on diversity climate by focussing on relational practices at the group level that can move diversity beyond numerical representation to strong inclusion and close relationships.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors thank the editors and anonymous reviewers for their excellent suggestions to improve the manuscript.

Citation

Bernstein, R.S. and Salipante, P. (2015), "Comfort versus discomfort in interracial/interethnic interactions: Group practices on campus", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 34 No. 5, pp. 376-394. https://doi.org/10.1108/EDI-06-2014-0050

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited