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Developing conceptions of racism among young white adults in the context of cultural diversity coursework


Despite substantial research on racial attitudes and racial identity development among young white adults, little is known about the development of their conceptions about racism. The present study assessed a five-step, empirically based contextualist model of the development of conceptions about racism in young white adults, adapted from the research of Perry (1970), Kitchener and Fischer (1990), and others. A total of 55 young white adults participating in cultural diversity coursework responded to questionnaires about the nature and causes of racism and responses were classified according to the five-step model. Results indicated that many first-year white college students think about racism in dualistic terms, comparable to those described by Perry (1970) in some first-year students' epistemological concepts. Over a semester, many students showed transitions to higher steps, conceptually integrating more dimensions of the problem. Such developmental transitions may be highly context-specific. Implications for educational interventions are discussed.

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Correspondence to Thomas R. Bidell.

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Bidell, T.R., Lee, E.M., Bouchie, N. et al. Developing conceptions of racism among young white adults in the context of cultural diversity coursework. J Adult Dev 1, 185–200 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02260094

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Key words

  • Racism
  • adult development
  • cultural diversity
  • social context
  • cognitive development