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Study Shows How Teachers Can Influence Cross-Racial Friendships

Erin Murphy


This week I was struck by a recently published study from New York University; the researchers found that over the course of the school year, cross-racial friendships among elementary and middle schoolers decrease while same-race friendships increase. This is disheartening considering what we already know, that most friendships are formed in the classroom and that cross-racial friendships have social, emotional, and academic benefits. Elise Cappella, the principal investigator of the study, further explains, “Friendships provide opportunities to build empathy and practice social skills. Being friends with racially or ethnically diverse peers can create opportunities for academic and social learning different from the opportunities afforded by same-race friendships.”

Additionally, the researchers found that simply having diversity in the classroom wasn’t enough and that teachers may play a role in whether students not only form cross-racial friendships, but also whether these friendships last throughout the school year and beyond. Teachers who were perceived by students as being warm and trustworthy and responsive to the needs of the students, predicted a smaller increase in same-race relationships from the beginning of the school year to the end. In other words, students who started the year with cross-race friendships were more likely to keep them throughout the year with the help of a friendly teacher.

This caused me to reflect of the power of Torsh TALENT, a video-based classroom observation tool. While TALENT is often used as a way to train teachers to better teach the curriculum, it can also be a tool for reviewing and self-reflecting on group dynamics and classroom culture. Teachers can review and critique the decisions they are making that might influence interactions among classmates. Jose Luis Vilson, a middle school teacher in New York City, shared how he didn’t give students the opportunity to self-select groups until later in the year, when everyone was comfortable working with anyone in the room. He hopes that this will help students learn from each other. TALENT can help teachers make changes like this one that will foster more lasting cross-racial relationships and in turn, create students who are more tolerant and more aware of people who are different from them. 

For more information about the study, you can read the NPRed article here and the press release from NYU here


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