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Assessing the effect of a diversity course on college students' readiness for social action engagement

Stephanie L Burrell, University of Massachusetts Amherst


One student learning goal for social diversity courses is to help students develop the knowledge and skills necessary to take action against policies and practices in society that are antithetical to a diverse democracy. This democratic outcome is described in the literature as social action engagement (Hurtado, Nelson Laird, Landreman, Engberg, & Fernandez, 2002). Previous studies have found that enrollment in a diversity course positively influences the importance students' place on social action engagement, their commitment and confidence to engage in social action, and their motivation to promote social justice. However, there is a dearth of research that examines which course processes and activities in diversity courses students believe affect their readiness to engage in actions that will interrupt and eradicate social oppression in society. Readiness in this study refers to a person's competence and desire to engage in a specific task (Hershey, 2004). The primary method for this assessment is an analysis of 60 students responses to a series of two vignettes administered at the beginning and end of a social diversity course that describe a situation involving a social justice issue. In addition, six students were interviewed to provide data in their own words about the course processes and activities they believe are most effective in increasing their readiness for social action engagement. Students did not identify or analyze the problem accurately on most vignettes over time. However, students were less likely to deny that a problem existed in the incidents described in each scenario on the post-test. Students maintained their motivation to take action in the scenarios over the course of the semester and their ability to identify action strategies and potential risks. In addition, students showed increased confidence and intention to engage in social action by the end of the course. Students who responded to the sexism vignette showed the most change over time in comparison to the other vignettes. Six themes emerged from the interviews. The themes derived from the interview data are lived experiences, perspective-taking, critical thinking, empathy, personal awareness and self-confidence.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Burrell, Stephanie L, "Assessing the effect of a diversity course on college students' readiness for social action engagement" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3325141.