Minority roommates promote healthy perception

By Shannon Barbour
Staff Writer

Students who have had a minority roommate are more likely to have positive perceptions of minority groups, according to data gathered from the U.S. Air Force Academy and analyzed by Dr. Jim West, professor of economics.

“It’s a topic that you would see more out of sociologists or psychologists, but we had this very unique and powerful data set. And we were able to use the economist’s tools of analyzing choice to infer these attitudes,” said West, who is also the holder of The W.H. Smith Professorship in economics.

The 2015 study, “The Impact of Intergroup Contact on Racial Attitudes and Revealed Preferences,” was completed using data collected from the Air Force Academy in Colorado, where West was a professor for 14 years.

“The starting point for this idea came from this famous sociology paper in the 1950s written by a guy named Gordon Allport; it’s called ‘Contact Hypothesis,’” West said.

Allport lists equal status, common goals, intergroup cooperation, support of authorities or customs and personal interactions in the paper as factors that contribute to positive interactions and future perceptions of minorities.

Although the study was conducted at the Air Force Academy, West said similar results could be found if a study were conducted at Baylor because of the presence of factors given by Allport.

“I think these factors would be present at Baylor,” West said. “That’s why we would have every reason to believe that increased contact at Baylor would be very beneficial.”

The perception of African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians by their white roommates were studied in addition to football players and recruited athletes in general.

“We did most of the job analyzing white roommates with black roommates,” West said. “That’s obviously the match everyone thinks about more. But to be more broad and academic, we actually looked at a bunch of different groups.”

According to Baylor Institute of Research and Testing, the minority rate at Baylor has increased in the past six years. In the fall of 2014, 5,730 out of 16,263 students were minorities, increasing the minority rate among undergraduate students to 34.3 percent.

The three most represented ethnicities at Baylor in fall 2014 were white, Hispanic and Asian.

Brownwood junior Sarah Underwood has never lived with a minority before, but would be open to it because of the learning experience.

“You learn more about more than you could learn from someone in class,” Underwood said. “You can learn maybe how they were raised or get cool facts about how their family does something different than yours.”

About 60 percent of Baylor students have expressed satisfaction toward their roommate placement according to data gathered by the Division of Student Life.

According to West, the Air Force Academy distributes all minorities evenly in the roommate placement process to ensure integration and interactions between the majority and minority groups.

“I don’t think it would be a bad thing because I think it wouldn’t encourage more separation,” Underwood said of bringing this method to Baylor.

Baylor is currently looking into using a new software to assist in roommate placements. The new software will function similar to a dating site or Facebook and will allow students to select their roommate based on profiles that students create.