Monday, August 15, 2011

Interracial Dating Attitudes Among College Students

Six-hundred-twenty university students completed an anonymous confidential questionnaire designed to assess attitudes toward interracial dating. Almost one fourth (24.2%) reported having dated interracially and almost half (49.6%) expressed an openness to become involved in an interracial relationship. Blacks, cohabitants, and those with previous interracial dating experience were significantly more likely to express an openness to become involved in an interracial relationship. Implications for university faculty, therapists, and students are suggested.

Although the marriages of Quincy Jones (musician), Charles Barkley (professional basketball player) and Roger Ebert (film critic) are interracial, less than 5% of all marriages in the United States are interracial (Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1998). This relatively low percentage of interracial marriages has been stable for decades. However, increased individualism, tolerance for diversity, and greater minority enrollment in colleges and universities may result in more approving attitudes of college students toward interracial relationships. This study focused on attitudes and behaviors of college students regarding interracial relationships.

The data consisted of 620 never married undergraduates from five first year level sociology courses at East Carolina University who voluntarily completed an anonymous questionnaire designed to assess the respondent's openness to become involved in an interracial relationship. Among the respondents, 63% were women; 37% were men. Eighty-percent were first year students and sophomores; twenty percent were juniors and seniors. The median age was 19. Respondents were predominately white (87%) and African-American (8.5%) with 1% Hispanic and 3.6% "other". About half (51.7%) were casually dating while the other half (48.3%) were involved in a reciprocal love relationship. Ten months was the median number of months respondents reported dating their current partner.

Items 17 and 18 on the 24 item questionnaire were "I am open to involvement in an interracial relationship" and "I have dated someone of another race." Respondents were asked to respond on a continuum- Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree. The category Neither Agree nor Disagree was also an option. Responses to Strongly Agree and Agree were combined as were responses to Strongly Disagree and Disagree. Individuals who circled Neither Agree nor Disagree were eliminated from the analysis. Five-hundred and twenty-two respondents acknowledged an agree or disagree position on being open to interracial dating. Five-hundred and eighty-three respondents reported that they had or had not dated interracially.

Findings and Discussion

Almost half (49.6%) of the respondents reported that they were open to involvement in an interracial relationship. Almost a quarter (24.2%) said that they had dated someone of another race. While there were no significant differences in sex (women vs men) or university rank (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior) between those who were open to interracial involvements and those who were not, there were significant differences in regard to race, cohabitation experience, previous interracial dating experience and openness to cohabit.

1. Race. Blacks were twice as likely as whites (83% vs 43%) to report that they were open to involvement in an interracial relationship. This finding was significant (p [is less than] .0000) suggesting that this difference would occur by chance less than one time in one hundred thousand. Previous researchers have documented the greater acceptance of blacks versus whites for interracial relationships (Rosenblatt et al., 1995). Explanations include more benefits from blacks joining the majority than vise versa, the greater number of whites available to blacks than vise versa, and the greater exposure of blacks to the white culture than vise versa. Finally, black mothers and white fathers have different roles in the respective black and white communities in terms of setting the norms of interracial relationships.

In many black families, mothers play the key role in accepting or not accepting an interracial relationship, much more than in white families. In white families, fathers were more often major players, as were siblings, grandparents, and other kin..."If women respond more often with openness and efforts to relate and less often with prejudice to the relationship choices of sons and daughters, then the fact that the crucial person in black families is most often a woman means there may be more acceptance of a family member's entry into an interracial couple" (Rosenblatt et al., 1995, 118).

2. Cohabitation Experience. Sixty percent of the college students in this sample who had lived together expressed an openness to become involved in an interracial relationship. Forty-seven percent of those who had not lived together expressed a similar willingness. This difference in cohabitants versus non-cohabitants over willingness to date interracially was statistically significant (p [is less than] .05). Both cohabitation and dating interracially are non normative behaviors. It is not surprising that students that elect to engage in non mainstream behavior in one area express this tendency in other areas.

3. Interracial Dating Experience. Ninety-two percent of the respondents who reported having dated interracially were open to doing so again. Only 32% of those who had not dated interracially were open to interracial involvement. This finding was statistically significant (p [is less than] .0000). The finding that exposure encourages acceptance is not unusual. Similar phenomenon in regard to racial attitudes has been documented (Hallinan and Teizeira, 1987; Homans, 1950; Slavin, 1979).

Summary and Implications

Almost half of the college students in this sample were open to involvement in a relationship with someone of another race. Almost a quarter had done so. Such openness to interracial dating is characteristic of both women and men and students of all academic ranks. Persons who are black, experienced in living together, and who have dated interracially are particularly approving of interracial involvement.

This study provides information for university students, faculty, and counselors about interracial dating as a part of the college experience. Racial barriers are, indeed, coming down as students test for themselves interracial relationships. Unique issues/benefits/problems related to these relationships await new research.

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