Although diversity experiences and diverse interactions can lead to important educational outcomes, the concern is that only those students who actually take advantage of these experiences and interactions will benefit. The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of "border crossers" – defined as students who were involved in cultural departments/programs and student organizations that did not reflect their own race/ethnicity. Given the lack of research in this area, a phenomenological approach using in-depth interviews with a sample of 37 participants, helped to explain why students chose to become border crossers, and how border crossers perceived and interpreted their experiences in different contexts.
Through the examination of motivations, it is apparent that students went into their experiences for different reasons that were linked to: pre-college environments, level of racial/ethnic identity development, interest in cross-cultural communication and understanding, connection to other racial/ethnic communities, interest in service or performance, and personal/social relationships. In general, students were motivated by a combination of reasons to cross their chosen borders, with some more focused on opportunities for racial/ethnic exposure than others.
For academic border crossers, the relationships that they had with counselors, peers, and faculty, were instrumental in making them feel like equal and legitimate participants. By understanding their own racial/ethnic identities better, students were more able to connect to other individuals with shared experiences, histories, and struggles. For organizational border crossers, their experiences involved regular interaction with peers who were not always familiar or welcoming. Because organizational border crossers consistently faced questions regarding their reasons for crossing borders, and their reasons for not spending more time with their own racial/ethnic groups, students often sought and found opportunities to engage in serious self-reflection, which gave them the chance to embrace their own racial/ethnic backgrounds and consider their own beliefs and values.
This study addresses how institutions can motivate students to become more involved in these cross-racial academic and organizational experiences, and what institutions can learn from students who have personally committed to crossing racial/ethnic boundaries. Implications for future research and practice are discussed.