AAC&U News, September 2016
Facts & Figures

First-Year Students Express Attitudes On Religious Diversity

First-year college and university students expect their institutions to be welcoming toward those of all religions, but they may not hold such tolerant beliefs themselves, according to a survey conducted by researchers at New York University and North Carolina State University in conjunction with the Interfaith Youth Core. Eighty-five percent of the approximately 20,000 students who completed the survey said that it is “important for their colleges to provide a welcoming environment for individuals of diverse religious backgrounds and nonreligious perspectives.” Only 43 percent, however, said that they personally had “high appreciative attitudes” toward Muslims, and just 39 percent said the same about Mormons.

The first-year students, surveyed during their first term on campus in the summer and fall of 2015, expected higher education to provide an inclusive environment for students regardless of religious beliefs, as well as chances for adherents of different faiths and nonreligious students to engage with one another. Seventy-one percent believed that it was “important” or “very important” for a college or university to provide “opportunities to get to know students of diverse religious and nonreligious perspectives,” and 68 percent believed it was “important” or “very important” for institutions to offer “opportunities to participate in community service with students of diverse religious and nonreligious perspectives.”

Disparity Between Beliefs and Actions

  • Eighty-three percent of students surveyed agreed that “we can overcome many of the world’s major problems if people of different religious and nonreligious perspectives work together,” and 81 percent agreed that “cultivating interreligious understanding will make the world a better place.”
  • Seventy-eight percent of students agreed that “their worldviews inspire them to serve with others on issues of common concern.”
  • Fifty percent of students had “worked with people of other religious and nonreligious perspectives on a service project.”
  • Only 35 percent had attended a religious service of a religion other than their own, and 19 percent had participated in interfaith dialogue.

Acceptance in the Abstract vs. Acceptance of Specific Groups

  • Ninety-one percent of students said that they respect people of other religious and nonreligious perspectives, and 84 percent agree that there “are people of other faiths whom they admire.”
  • Fifty-five percent of students reported having “high appreciative attitudes” toward Buddhists; 53 percent reported the same toward Jews, and 52 percent reported the same toward Evangelical Christians.
  • Only 47 percent of students reported having “high appreciative attitudes” toward atheists, while 46 percent reported the same feeling toward Hindus and 43 percent and 39 percent reported the same toward Muslims and Mormons, respectively.

Students Name Their Influences

  • “Family background and traditions” were named as one of the top three influences on their worldviews by 73 percent of students.
  • Forty-nine percent of students said that “religious beliefs/faith” were among the top three influences on their worldviews.
  • “Cultural backgrounds and traditions” were cited by 36 percent of students as among the top three influences on their worldviews.

Did You Know?

  • Forty-one percent of students surveyed described themselves as “both religious and spiritual”; 26 percent described themselves as “spiritual, but not religious”; 22 percent identified as “neither religious nor spiritual; 11 percent identified as “religious, but not spiritual.”
  • Fifty-four percent of students said they had “talked and listened to people with different viewpoints before committing to their own worldview.” Fifty-two percent said they had “integrated multiple points of view before committing to their own worldview.”
  • Of the students surveyed, 55 percent were Christian, 28 percent identified as nonreligious, 16 percent belonged to a minority religion, and 2 percent held worldviews that did not align with the categories given.

To access the results of the survey, visit “Emerging Interfaith Trends: What College Students Are Saying About Religion in 2016.” Visit AAC&U’s website for a recent article on interfaith cooperation by several of the survey researchers, as well as other resources on diversity, equity, and inclusive excellence.

About AAC&U News

AAC&U News is written and edited by Ben Dedman. If you have questions or comments about the newsletter's contents, please e-mail dedman@aacu.org.

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