Study finds interracial dorm roommates reduce prejudice

Kelly Petryszyn

Kent students relate no matter skin color

Shamira Williams, senior computer information systems major, and Natalie Ippolito, sophomore computer science major, live in Wright Hall. The roommates said despite prior nerves of living together, they have a lot in common and are good friends. Tessa Ba

Credit: DKS Editors

READ a related article about a student who feared his new roommates would be homophobes.

Students who live with a roommate of another race gain a new perspective, according to a recent study from The Ohio State University.

Russell Fazio, Ohio State professor of psychology, conducted several studies in 2008 with Natalie Shook, assistant psychology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, about the effects of interracial roommate relationships on racial attitudes.

Freshmen interracial roommates showed more positive racial attitudes over time, according to the study. It examined only black and white interracial roommates.

Fazio said interracial roommates have reduced anxiety among groups of a different race, and this makes them more comfortable around other races.

Here are two pairs of interracial roommates at Kent State who found all that out before reading it in a study.

A stereotype disproved

When John Rovnyak, a white student, moved into Tri-Towers with Darius Carter, a black student, he knew Carter was a rapper.

He thought Carter was going to be stereotypically materialistic and violent. He thought he’d be a partier.

But Carter fit none of those descriptions. He embodied a different image of a rapper. Rovnyak learned that rapping is just a part of Carter’s life. He’s a regular person, just like anyone else.

“Stereotypes have no effect in real life,” said Rovnyak, freshman chemistry major. “(It’s) more about the person than how they act.”

Carter, a junior business management major, has always lived with roommates of a different race and has taken the opportunity to teach his roommates about differences. Last year, one of his white roommates was in a rock band, and the two taught each other about music. Carter learned the genres have more similarities than he thought.

The situation has helped Rovnyak become more conscious of what other races think. He said when he is unsure if something he says will offend a person of another race, he runs it by Carter to get his opinion.

Rovnyak grew up in a diverse school outside of Youngstown, so he has always been comfortable with race. He said living with Carter strengthened his views that the race of a person doesn’t matter.

Carter feels the same way.

“If anything, it made me feel closer to other races,” he said. “People are just people. It doesn’t matter what color they are. The only thing that matters is personality.”

Finding common ground

At first, Natalie Ippolito was worried. “What if we have different views? What if we don’t get along?” she thought when she learned she was going to live with a black roommate.

The sophomore computer science major, who is white, had never had a black roommate before, and she was nervous about relating to her.

But Ippolito was pleased to learn she didn’t have many differences with her roommate, Shamira Williams, senior computer information systems major. The two actually had a lot in common.

“We think the same, like the same music, like to do the same thing, have the same major and are from the same area,” Ippolito said.

She has always had problems with her roommates in the past, and this year is the first year she is getting along with one. The two were assigned to live together in Tri-Towers.

Williams was also hesitant at first – but not because of race. She was uncertain because of other issues that come along with living with another. She grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood, but she’s comfortable with other races because she has been around interracial couples.

She said she has never had interracial friends until she came to Kent State. Diversity was one of the reasons Williams came here because “it’s good to be around different people,” she said.

Ippolito said she has more friends of different races now, too.

Early on, Ippolito was intimidated when Williams would have a group of friends of a different race in the room because it was a new group of people she hadn’t spent much time around. Now, Ippolito and Williams are good friends with each other’s friends.

Contact diversity reporter Kelly Petryszyn at [email protected].