Friend groups might not be as diverse, study finds

Though USC is the most internationally diverse university in the country, diversity might not translate to friend groups, according to a recent study by the Group Process & Intergroup Relations.

The study concluded that as large universities become more diverse, students tend to only make friends with those who share their own interests and backgrounds.

The study refers to the term “social selection” — the idea that students will actively select friends who are ethnically similar and have like interests.

USC, with its large international population, seems to follow this trend. The Freshman Profile and Admisson Information 2011-2012 revealed an increase in the international student population.

“Greater human diversity within an environment leads to less personal diversity within dyads,” the study said.

One reason for this might be that students’ unfamiliarity with college leads them to form friends with those similar to themselves, said Linda Wong, executive director of the Center for Urban Education at the USC Rossier School of Education.

“For a lot of freshman students, attending college may be their first experience away from home and with such unfamiliar surroundings,” Wong said. “I am not surprised by the study, but I do believe it is the job of the university to create an environment that enables students to establish diverse relationships.”

In comparison with last year’s Freshman Profile, the number of international students increased 4 percent. Among freshmen, 15 percent tends to come from areas such as China, South Korea, Canada and India.

Of enrolled freshmen at USC, 7 percent identifies as African-American, 12 percent as Latino/Hispanic, 2 percent as Native American/Pacific Islander and 25 percent as Asian. Of freshmen, 39 percent are Caucasian, compared with 42 percent in 2010 statistics.

Mayur Shah, an undeclared freshman, said the study accurately depicts the social environment at USC.

“Walking around campus, I see people of the same ethnicity hanging out together a lot more than I see a mix,” Shah said. “This is understandable, though, because a lot of us are looking for familiarity in a new environment, and especially for internationals, I think it is a difficult transition.”

Wong said the university needs to proactively integrate diversity into all aspects of school life in order to create a diverse environment on campus.

“The study shows that simply creating a diverse campus won’t necessarily create a diverse individual,” Wong said. “Students must be willing to go beyond comfort zones while the university must create an environment that gives them that opportunity.”

Ryan Choi, a freshman majoring in chemical engineering, said he attempts to find friends who match his interests, not necessarily his ethnicity.

“Just because I’m Asian doesn’t mean I only want Asian friends,” Choi said. “For me, social selection just means finding nice people who are accepting of my interests and ideas.”

A diverse community is crucial for a university and prepares students for life after college, Wong said.

“Exposure to diversity is critical because that’s the nature of the world we live in,” Wong said. “At some point, we all experience it. To have an opportunity in a university environment will better prepare students for the real world.”

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