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Social Energy and Racial Segregation in the University Context*


  • I will share all data and coding information with those wishing to replicate this study. This research was supported in part by the Chandler Davidson Research Fund at Rice University. I thank Michael Emerson, Bridget Gorman, and Elizabeth Long for comments on earlier versions of this article.

Direct correspondence to Valerie A. Lewis, The Dartmouth Institute, 35 Centerra Parkway, Lebanon, NH 03766 〈



Universities often promote their diversity as a selling point, but are students of different races at these universities integrated socially? Using theories on social energy, I examine racial segregation among university students.


Quantitative data were collected on student residence patterns and social groupings formed at lunch tables at a case study university. In addition, interviews were conducted with 25 students.


Students are substantially more segregated than chance predicts. Blacks and Hispanics are particularly segregated. Interviews reveal that these students spend large amounts of social energy coping with prejudice and discrimination as well as functioning in a student culture they find unwelcoming and foreign.


Social energy drains on minority students from discrimination and an unwelcoming campus culture reduce energy left for interracial interaction, making these racial groups more segregated. The study highlights the need for understanding segregation as a function of the interaction of out-group preferences, in-group preferences, and the larger social context.