The first benefit, although expected, is particularly relevant in today’s world. Studying over the course of 3 years almost 6,000 students entering one of 26 Californian middle schools with different degrees of diversity, the researcher found that schools with greater diversity also had more cross-ethnic friendships; and that students with cross-ethnic friends had more positive attitudes towards ethnic groups different from their own.
The greater availability of a diversity of friends thus counteracted the homophily (tendency to befriend individuals similar to oneself) typically observed in society, and especially in schools.
In addition, the author of the study theorized that such cross-ethnic friendships could benefit underprivileged minorities in terms of academic achievement:
“Such friends can function like social capital, facilitating the flow of important information across ethnic boundaries about what it takes to be successful in school. By forming a relationship with an academically oriented cross-ethnic classmate, students may be gaining access to new resources: their friends' knowledge and skills related to achievement and possibly exposure to a larger academically oriented social network.”
But diversity also benefits members of majority groups, thanks to the formation of “complex social identities”.
One of the core developmental tasks of adolescence is the development of one’s personal an social identity. The latter refers to the various groups with which one identifies, while the former refers to their integration into a unique and hopefully positive sense of self. When there is a low degree of overlap between these various groups, social identity is said to be complex. In this case, one belongs to a diversity of social groups, and the distinction between ingroups (“us”) and outgroups (“them”) is diffused.
One of the many benefits of these complex social identities allowed by a greater diversity is the promotion of students’ mental health and positive self-concepts. The reason, according to the author, is the following.
Early adolescence is a time of challenges, and it is not uncommon for students to feel victimized by their peers. When one belongs to a supposedly powerful group, such as an ethnic majority, the “attribution” as psychologists call it, or explanation of this situation tends to be internal. They are in this situation because there is something wrong with them--a thought that can easily translate into depressive symptoms.
However, with greater diversity comes a greater balance of power between groups, and thus less of a reason for victims to make internal attributions of their situation.
Of course, this greater balance of power also benefits members of minority groups, as it decreases their sense of vulnerabilty.
In addition to positive intergroup attitudes, diversity could thus promote the psychological well-being of students from all ethnic backgrounds.
Source: Graham (2018)