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ISSN: 2232-0172

Vol 5 Issue 1, February 2015


pp. 1130

A Contemporary Business Journal

Impact of Ethnocentrism on Interethnic Interactions


among Local Students in Malaysian Universities
Somayeh Mortazavi Ganji Ketab, Ezhar Tamam & Jusang Bolong
Faculty of Modern Languages and Communication, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Malaysia

Saeed Pahlevan Sharif


Taylors Business School, Malaysia

The Author(s) 2015. This article is published with open access by Taylors Press.

Abstract: In this study, the authors examine the influence of ethnocentrism on offline and
online interethnic interactions among Malaysian students at two multiethnic and multicultural
Malaysian public universities. The responses of 200 Malay, 105 Chinese, and 38 Indian
undergraduate students were analysed. Results reveal a significant difference between the level
of offline and online interethnic interactions among respondents. It was found that students
had more offline interethnic interactions compared to online interactions. This is due to the
fact that interactions through online media are more dependent on a conscious choice and
decision to communicate actively and to take the step for interethnic communication. Thus
in situations where they could choose whether or not to interact, they presumably willingly
elected to not take that step. It can be concluded that students were uninterested in making
any effort in expanding their interethnic interaction in the virtual world beyond their own
ethnic group due to their ethnocentric attitudes. Therefore, all hypotheses of this study were
accepted.

Key words: Ethnocentrism, interethnic interaction, university, Malaysia


JEL classification: G14

1. INTRODUCTION
For centuries, Malaysia has been a multiethnic country, with its population consisting
of several ethnic groups such as Malays and other Bumiputra (indigenous peoples),
Chinese, Indians, Eurasians and others (Malaysian Department of Statistics, 2013).
Each ethnicity in Malaysia has its own unique culture and heritage, including but
not limited to their preferred languages, belief systems, traditions and religion
(Mustapha, Azman, Karim, Ahmad & Lubis, 2009). The ethnic diversity in Malaysia

Correspondence: Somayeh Mortazavi Ganji Ketab, Universiti Putra Malaysia.


Email: samya.mortazavi@gmail.com

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Somayeh Mortazavi Ganji Ketab, Ezhar Tamam, Jusang Bolong & Saeed Pahlevan Sharif

is an ancient legacy, but the presence of the large non-indigenous population can be
attributed to the massive influx of Chinese and Indian immigrant laborers to meet
the labor needs during the colonial period (Tamam, 2009).
The historic background of Malaysia, to a certain extent, influences peoples
perceptions towards other ethnicities. Muzaffar (2010) highlighted Malaysia as one
of the core example of a heterogeneous and ethnocentric society with interethnic
harmony threatened by underlying currents. Ethnicity issues are as much a practical
concern to the Malaysian nation as food or water supply issues; it can be argued that
it is in everyones pragmatic self-interest to live harmoniously. Thus, harmonious
interethnic interactions are strongly stressed upon in Malaysia (Tamam, 2013).
In this regard, it has been observed that institutions of higher education in
Malaysia have failed to unite diverse students resulting in creeping intolerance,
ethnocentrism and self-segregation on campuses (Segawa, 2007). Although self-
segregation is still an issue in Malaysian multicultural university campuses (Yeoh,
2006; Aziz, Salleh & Ribu, 2010), little is known about the impact of the ethnic-
related diversity experiences of Malaysian local students (Tamam, 2012).
In these modern times, particularly in a prosperous nation, interaction among
people is not limited to face-to-face relationships; technology has enabled online
interactions to capture a huge share of daily communication. The rise of this new
media enables users to connect to a variety of people from different backgrounds
and allow them to find common grounds in their beliefs and interests (Hunter,
2002). Online communication helps users to create new online norms and transfer
the norms of real-life social relations into online forms.
Taking into account ethnocentrism in Malaysia and the importance of offline
and online interethnic interactions among ethnic groups, the relationship between
these two phenomena warrants an examination. The importance of ethnicity is
highlighted by Fong and Isajiw (2000) who argued that no discussion of ethnic
relations and cross-ethnic ties is complete without investigating the impact of
ethnicity. Therefore, this study examines the impact of ethnocentric attitudes on
face-to-face interethnic interactions and the extent of ethnocentrism undertones in
online interethnic communication.

2. LITERATURE REVIEW

2.1 Offline and Online Interethnic Interactions

Offline interethnic interactions in a multiethnic campus refer to the frequency


in which a student studied, dined, or roomed with peers of a different ethnicity
(Hurtado, Dey & Trevio, 1994). In other words, face-to-face interethnic interaction
refers to intentional and non-intentional contact among students of diverse ethnic
backgrounds within academic environments (Robinson, 2012). So, multicultural
higher education institutions and universities can be considered as a good platform

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Impact of Ethnocentrism on Interethnic Interactions among Local Students in Malaysian Universities

for students to socialise with others in order to increase positive cross-ethnic


interaction.
Many studies revealed that interethnic interactions among ethnically diverse
students in colleges or universities play a vital role in achieving educational benefits.
These positive outcomes include an increasing commitment to democratic values
(Laird, Engberg, & Hurtado, 2005; Saenz, Ngai & Hurtado, 2007), improvement
in overall satisfaction, sense of belonging, and persistence (Hurtado, 2005; Locks,
Hurtado, Bowman & Oseguera, 2008), a more positive academic and social self-
concept (Gurin, Dey, Hortado & Gurin, 2002), improved leadership skills and
cultural understanding (Antonio, 2001), and higher levels of civic interest (Gurin et
al., 2002).
Chang (1996) found that greater ethnic diversity among undergraduate students
positively affects the occurrence of socialisation if it is related to discussions
regarding ethnic issues in college, joining ethnic or cultural awareness workshops, and
promoting ethnic understanding. Another study in US showed that communicating
with students of another ethnic group and developing interethnic friendships helped
majority students to develop cultural awareness in their colleges (Antonio, 1998).
Although interethnic interactions in university has several positive effects and
students can benefit from them, some researchers claim that most educators have
not intentionally tried to encourage students in make contact, therefore there is
no intentional interethnic interactions among students (Harper & Hurtado, 2007).
In Malaysian universities, no effective actions have been taken to improve ethnic
integration among students. Several studies in Malaysia revealed a polarised
friendship pattern visible along ethnic lines. Most public universities in Malaysia have
Malay, Chinese and Indian students and despite this, very little is known about the
impact of ethnic-related diversity experiences of Malaysian local students (Tamam,
2012). As such, it is critical to look into student interethnic interactions in Malaysian
multiethnic campuses.
Today, online interaction takes up a much larger share in communication with
face-to-face communication declining somewhat in popularity as Lin (2001) argued
that user social networks increasingly rely on the electronic medium. When it comes
to ethnic diversity, social network sites are considered the common communication
tools to connect different users. Differences in class, religion and culture, language,
lifestyle as well as social gaps have made it more difficult for ethnic communities
to communicate effectively. Hence, new communication tools can be employed as
an alternative way to promote social interactions between different groups of users
(Jaafar, 2011).
Malaysian youths employ social network sites to socialise with friends and seek
information (Abd Jalil, Abd Jalil & Abdul Latif, 2012). Malaysians spend an average
of five hours in the cyber realm daily, and three out of these five hours are spent on
social media (Mustafa, 2014), and 58% of Malaysians are preoccupied with the social
media through their handheld devices (Ghandi, 2014). Studies reveal that almost

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Somayeh Mortazavi Ganji Ketab, Ezhar Tamam, Jusang Bolong & Saeed Pahlevan Sharif

42% of Malaysian youths aged between 20 to 29 years old and 16.5% of children
and teens below 19 are passionate Internet users (Ghandi, 2014). These statistics
indicate that 15.6 million out of 19.2 million Internet users in Malaysia are active
on Facebook and a total of 64% of the population have social media penetration
(Mustafa, 2014). Hence, social network sites play a significant role in interethnic
interactions in Malaysia.

2.2 Ethnocentrism

The theoretical notion of ethnocentrism, as introduced by Sumner (1906), suggests


that in most intergroup contexts, ones own group is the center of everything, and
all others are scaled and rated with reference to it (p. 13). It explains that all cultures
are so embedded in their own unique norms and value orientations and believe that
their specified perceptions and interpretations of the world are the most correct one
(Neuliep, Chaudoir, & McCroskey, 2001).
Ethnicity has been the most constant social problem in Malaysia and as such,
living together in a harmonious society with different ethnic backgrounds, culture,
language, and religion has not been easy for Malaysians (Mustapha et al., 2009).
Scholars have indicated that in societies with high levels of ethnocentrism, it is
more challenging to maintain cohesion and solidarity between all group members
(Hooghe 2003; Sniderman, Peri, De Figueiredo & Piazza, 2002).
Before studying about ethnocentrism in a society, it is necessary to find and
explore its roots. The ethnic diversity in Malaysia is attributed to the massive influx
of Chinese and Indian immigrant laborers into the country by colonial rulers to
meet their labor needs (Tamam, 2009).
Malaysia is considered a collectivist and large power distance country in which
the less powerful members of institutions and organisations accept that power is
distributed unequally (Hofstede & Bond, 1984, p. 419). During the British colonial
period in Malaysia, there was little social contact among ethnic groups. Their social
interactions were restricted only to the office, workplace and marketplaces. This
only strengthened further ethnic-based prejudice and identities (Mahli, 1988 as cited
in Aziz et al., 2010). These attitudes were barriers to developing social relations
(Manaf, 2001 as cited in Aziz et al., 2010) resulting in divisions, grouping and keen
competition for achieving political, economic and social advantages between the
ethnic groups (Osman, 1989 as cited in Aziz et al., 2010).
The British practiced self-separation and polarisation to exploit the nations
resources and to stabilise their political power in the Malaya peninsula. The various
roles and status of the British government as understood by Malays, Chinese and
Indians (Mahli, 1988 as cited in Aziz et al., 2010) resulted in the three groups being
divided in terms of occupation, living space and education (Zainal, 1986 as cited in
Aziz et al., 2010).

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Impact of Ethnocentrism on Interethnic Interactions among Local Students in Malaysian Universities

This segregation was manipulative in nature resulting in a us vs them


mentality. Feelings of ethnocentrism can affect peoples reactions and make them
decide based on what they feel and imagine according to their own biased perceptions.
Hooghe (2003) found that in societies with high levels of ethnocentrism, it is more
challenging to maintain cohesion and keep solidarity between all group members.
Neuliep (2002) asserted that ethnocentrism is a barrier to effective and
impressive intercultural communication. A study by Lin, Rancer and Trimbitas
(2005) compared the relationship between ethnocentrism and their willingness
to communicate among Romanian and American students. The study showed
that individuals communication traits and predispositions affect their behaviors
when communicating with other cultures. Results revealed that Romanians had
significantly higher levels of ethnocentrism and lower willingness to communicate
when compared with their American counterparts.
According to Chen and Starosta (2000), intercultural communication sensitivity
is a precondition for intercultural communication competence. He asserted that when
an individuals intercultural communication sensitivity increases, the intercultural
communication competence will also be enhanced. Therefore, ethnocentrism can
be considered as a hurdle to intercultural communication competence (Neuliep
& McCroskey, 1997b). In other words, there is an inverse relationship between
ethnocentrism and willingness to interact; if the former increases, the latter tend to
decrease.
Ethnocentrism can be observed as an obstacle in multiethnic societies. Aforesaid
studies indicated that more ethnocentric attitudes resulted in less racial interaction.
When individuals evaluate outsiders based on their own beliefs and values, then it
is not easy for them to have interactions that are free of judgment. This negative
perception toward an out-group does not allow the in-group to trust and make a
positive relationship with outsiders. Hence, having trust is a powerful element to
create a relationship with others outside the inner cycle. According to Malaysians
sensitive viewpoints regarding ethnicity, it is definitely required to investigate the
nature of relationship between ethnocentrism and peoples interethnic interaction.

2.3 Influence of Ethnocentrism on Interethnic Interactions

Peoples social behaviors in any community originate from their attitudes toward
others and the flow of their attitude is visible in daily life, hence the quality of
their interactions can be affected positively or negatively. People who trust outsiders
can communicate and strengthen their relationship, but on the contrary, negative
perception can become a hurdle for trust to be built and develop a positive
relationship with outsiders. Powers and Ellison (1995) claimed positive interethnic
interactions occur among individuals who have positive internal attitudes toward
different ethnicities.

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Somayeh Mortazavi Ganji Ketab, Ezhar Tamam, Jusang Bolong & Saeed Pahlevan Sharif

Neuliep (2011) believes that culture teaches individuals how to think, educates
people how to feel, and instructs people how to act and interact with others. People
through intercultural interactions employ their own cultural values and standards
to evaluate and communicate with different ethnic groups because their internal
attitudes toward others influence their interactions (Guan, 1995; Kelley, 2003).
Ethnocentrism is a barrier to effective and impressive intercultural
communication (Neuliep, 2002). In an ethnocentric community, all cultures are
imbedded in their own unique norms and values orientations leading people to
believe that their specified perceptions and interpretations of the world are the most
correct ones (Neuliep et al., 2001).
There are several studies on the role of ethnocentrism in communication
and interaction among people. Lin, Rancer and Lim (2003) did a cross-cultural
comparison of ethnocentrism and willingness to communicate between Korean
and American college students. They found that Korean students have significantly
lower scores on both ethnocentrism and intercultural willingness to communicate
compared to their American ones.
Lin et al (2005) explored the relationship between Romanian and American
students ethnocentrism and their willingness to communicate. They learned that
communication behaviors and tendencies affect interactions with people from
other cultures. Results revealed that Romanians have significantly higher levels
of ethnocentrism and lower willingness to communicate when compared with
their American counterparts. Hence, ethnocentrism can be considered a hurdle
to intercultural communication competence (Neuliep, 1997a). In other words, the
relationship between ethnocentric attitudes and ethnic interactions is negatively
correlated and past studies have revealed that ethnocentrism is an obstacle in
multiethnic communities.
An opinion poll on ethnic relations in Malaysia carried out by Merdeka Center
in 2006 indicated that although Malaysians were happy with their ethnic relations,
ethnocentric views, misunderstanding and mistrust is still quite prevalent among
them. Scholars have highlighted that although educational benefits were related to
interethnic interactions in racially-diverse campuses, many universities did not try to
encourage students to interact across ethnic backgrounds (Robinson, 2012). This
trend is common in Malaysian multiethnic universities bringing about disunity.
Interethnic interaction in a multiethnic campus refers to the frequency in which
a student had studied, dined, or roomed with peers of a different ethnicity (Hurtado,
Dey & Trevio, 1994). In other words, interethnic interactions refer to intentional
and non-intentional contact among students of diverse ethnic backgrounds within
academic environments (Robinson, 2012). So, multicultural higher education
institutions and universities can be considered as a good platform for students to
socialise with others in order to increase positive cross-ethnic interactions.
Bowman (2011) believed that student development depends on interactions
across ethnic groups and discussion on ethnic-related issues. Positive cross-ethnic

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Impact of Ethnocentrism on Interethnic Interactions among Local Students in Malaysian Universities

interactions help improve ethnic relations (Sigelman & Welch, 1993; Powers &
Ellison, 1995). Nesdale and Todd (1998) found in their research that cross-ethnic
friendship is of great importance for students as they can learn about others, build
a sense of understanding and reduce prejudicial attitudes toward different ethnic
groups. Campus diversity generates an ethnically-rich atmosphere in which students
are able to think more critically about ethnic-related social concerns, experience
diversity through interethnic interactions, be exposed to other cultures, improve
social self-confidence, as well as promote ethnic communication in the classroom
(Antonio, 2001; Hurtado et al., 2003; Bowman, 2011).
Nowadays, interactions between students are not confined to face-to-face
communication, as online interaction has taken up a large portion as well. The rise of
new media has changed the concept of traditional communities with the emergence
of online communities. Online communication enables users to connect to a variety
of people from different backgrounds and allows them to find common grounds in
their beliefs and interests (Hunter, 2002).
Although online communication tools may foster interactions in the virtual
world, it does not play the same role in heterogeneous societies and people may
follow the same communication style that they have practiced offline. Abdullah (as
cited in Ridzuan, Bolong, Omar, Osman, Yusof & Abdullah, 2012) found that only
52% of Malaysian adolescents have a friend of different ethnicity. Hence, positive or
negative attitudes towards different ethnic groups can also be transferred to online
interactions as well.

3. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

3.1 Research Context

The two universities used for this study had 13,850 and 12,800 local undergraduate
students in 2013 and they were among the premier multicultural public research
universities in Malaysia. The campus ethnic breakdown was 6:3:1 of Malay to Chinese
to Indian. These universities were not only diverse in their student population, but
also amongst its faculty members.
A large majority of local undergraduate students of all ethnicities live in
residential colleges. Various forms of activities throughout the year are carried out
by these residential colleges in order to enhance closer relationship among students
of different ethnic groups. Students are required to pass a couple of compulsory
courses related to race/ethnicity, culture, and ethnic relations (Tamam, 2013). So, it
is expected that these kind of activities can help students to bridge the ethnic gaps
and communicate beyond ethnocentric attitudes.

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Somayeh Mortazavi Ganji Ketab, Ezhar Tamam, Jusang Bolong & Saeed Pahlevan Sharif

3.2 Research Questions and Hypotheses

Malaysia is a multiethnic and multicultural country where race-related issues


remain an obstacle in its universities. Nevertheless, the positive attitude of students
toward those outside of their ethnic group paves the way for growing interethnic
interactions in campuses. Malaysia is considered an ethnocentric country whose
ethnic relations are dampened by negative attitudes toward other ethnic groups. Past
studies on this country have revealed that ethnicity is important for people and they
prefer to identify themselves based on their own ethnicity rather than their national
identity. So, this study attempts to investigate the extent of effect of local students
ethnocentric attitudes on offline and online interethnic interactions. As such, the
general questions that this study aims to answer are:
RQ1: What is the relationship between ethnocentrism and offline interethnic
interaction among local students?
RQ2: What is the relationship between ethnocentrism and online interethnic
interaction among local students?
Drawing on the discussions outlined above, the present study tested the following
hypotheses.
o H1: There is a relationship between ethnocentrism and offline interethnic
interaction among local students.
o H2: There is a relationship between ethnocentrism and online interethnic
interaction among local students.

3.3. Data Collection Procedure

Self-administered questionnaires were used to collect data from 343 undergraduate


students of two multicultural public universities. The respondents were selected
using non-random quota sampling and based on the ethnic ratio, meaning Malay
(60%), Chinese (30%) and Indian (10%). Two residential colleges with the highest
number of local students were picked based on the student list in each university.
The best time to have access to the highest number of respondents was during
lunch and dinner times at cafes. The questionnaire was distributed to every third
student who was queuing to pay for food. This approach was continued until the
required number of respondent for each ethnic group was achieved. Of the 392
students approached for the survey, a total of 200 Malay, 105 Chinese, and 38 Indian
students participated, resulting in a survey response rate of 87%. The respondents
age ranged from 18 to 27 years with a mean of 21.90 (SD = 1.58). There were more
female respondents (57%) than male respondents (43%). The sample represented
all levels of undergraduate students: first-, second-, third-, and forth-year students,
at 30.1%, 29.5%, 23.9% and 16.5%, respectively.

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3.4 Measurement

3.4.1 Ethnocentrism
This study employed Neuliep and McCroskeys (1997b) generalised ethnocentrism
(GENE) scale for measuring ethnocentric attitudes. The questionnaires five items
with five-point Likert scale (strongly agree to strongly disagree) indicated high
reliability ( = 0.85) (Table 1). The GENE scale has demonstrated acceptable
reliability in previous studies (Dong, Day & Colloo, 2008; Justen, 2009; Swenson
& Visgatis, 2012).

3.4.2 Interethnic interactions


This refers to any online and offline interethnic interactions that occur among the
respondents.
Offline interethnic interaction was assessed using eight questions that looked at
the respondents experiences of interacting with students of other ethnic groups.
The first question in this part was designed to determine the frequency of interaction.
The rest was extracted from the Your First College Year (YFCY) survey instrument
(2013) and modified to assess respondents interethnic interaction since entering
the university. The original survey measured students experience on campus
with students from a racial or ethnic group other than their own. This survey was
developed in 2000 to assess the academic and personal development of students.
The section that was related to the relationship of students with other ethnic groups
was extracted to be used in this study.
For instance, the first question in the original scale was I dined or shared a meal with
students from a racial/ethnic other than my own and in this study, it was modified to I dined
with peers or friends of a different ethnicity in this campus in a semester. Offline interaction
among students was the main point in this part, so face-to-face phrase was added
to every item to ensure the respondents were aware of the type of interaction that
was being measured. The last question [I partied with students from an ethnic group other
than my own] in this scale was deleted as it did not match with the Malaysian culture.
So, seven items with a five-point Likert scale from very often (4) to never (0) were
employed to measure positive and negative interethnic interactions among students
in and off the campus (Table 1). The Alpha Coefficient for the scale was quite high
( = 0.91).
Online interethnic interaction refers to any communication through Internet,
emails, chat rooms, social network sites and any web platform. The first question
in this section on respondents online interethnic interactions asked which online
communication tools were employed to interact with students of other ethnicities
and the next question looked at the frequency of interactions. The items in this part
were adopted from the earlier part that looked at offline interethnic interactions. A
five-point Likert scale ranging from (4) very often to (0) never was used to analyse
this section as well.

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3.6 Analysis Procedure

The details of the properties measured for each construct are shown in Table 1. First,
we ran the confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) which revealed that standardised factor
loadings are greater than 0.5 and all of them are significant at the 95% confidence
level (Hair, Black, Babin, & Anderson, 2010). Although Chi-square goodness of fit
test is significant (p-value < 0.05) due to the large sample size (Hair et al., 2010), by
referring to other model fit indices, the model fit is considered good (Table 1). Then
we assessed construct reliability, convergent validity, and discriminant validity (Hair
et al., 2010). As shown in Table 1, the three constructs were reliable (composite
reliability range = 0.014 - 0.919). For convergent and discriminant validity, this study
followed Hair et al.s (2010) guideline and assessed average variance extracted (AVE),
maximum shared squared variance (MSV), and average shared square variance
(ASV). As shown in Table 1, AVE for all constructs are greater than 0.5 and CR is
greater than AVE for each construct. Thus, all constructs have convergent validity.
For discriminant validity, AVE should be greater than MSV and ASV. As indicated in
Table 1, the AVE measure for each construct is greater than its MSV and ASV and
as such, there is no discriminant validity issue.

Table 1. Measurement of item properties

Construct / Measure (composite reliability (CR), average variance extracted Factor


(AVE), maximum shared squared variance (MSV), average shared square Loading
variance (ASV))

Ethnocentrism (CR = 0.914, AVE = 0.680, MSV = 0.184, ASV = 0.134)


1 I do not cooperate with people who are from different ethnicities. 0.82
2 I do not trust people who are from different ethnicities. 0.84
3 I dislike interacting with people from different ethnicities. 0.88
4 I have little respect for the values of other ethnicities. 0.81
5 I have little respect for the customs of other ethnicities. 0.78

Offline Interethnic Interaction (CR = 0.898, AVE = 0.596, MSV = 0.323,


ASV = 0.116)
1 I had meaningful and honest face-to-face discussions about ethnic 0.71
relations with peers and friends of different ethnicities.
2 I had satisfactory face-to-face interactions with peers or friends of 0.67
different ethnicities on campus.
3 I had friendly face-to-face interactions with peers or friends of 0.80
different ethnicities on campus.
4 I had face-to-face intellectual discussions with peers or friends of 0.70
different ethnicities outside the class.

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Table 1 (cont)
Construct / Measure (composite reliability (CR), average variance extracted Factor
(AVE), maximum shared squared variance (MSV), average shared square Loading
variance (ASV))
I felt secure during face-to-face interactions with peers or friends of
5 0.73
different ethnicities.
6 I studied or prepared for class with students of different ethnicities 0.68
through face-to-face discussions.

Online Interethnic Interaction (CR = 0.919, AVE = 0.531, MSV = 0.277,


ASV = 0.181)
1 I use online media to interact with peers and friends of different 0.72
ethnicities.
2 I had meaningful and honest online discussions about ethnic relations 0.73
with peers and friends of different ethnicities.
3 I had satisfactory online interactions with peers and friends of 0.77
different ethnicities.
4 I had friendly online interactions with peers and friends of different 0.81
ethnicities.
5 I had online intellectual discussion with peers and friends of different 0.76
ethnicities.
6 I felt secure during online interactions with peers or friends of 0.73
different ethnicities.
7 I studied or prepared for class with students of different ethnicities 0.70
through online discussions.
All factor loadings are more than 0.5.

4. RESULTS

4.1 Offline Interethnic Interaction

As shown in Table 2, the students were asked about the frequency of their interaction
with students of other ethnicities on campus. The findings showed that students
had interethnic interaction almost every day (46.6%), 3 to 5 days in a week (25.4%),
followed by 1 to 2 days in a week (15.2%), once a week (7.6%), rarely (5.2%) and
never (0%). Interethnic interaction on a daily basis had the highest score compared
with other items with almost half of the respondents admitting to communicating
with students of other ethnicities. This shows that students are not able to avoid
campus interethnic interactions and most have experienced such interactions. There
was no respondent who had not been exposed to offline interethnic interaction.
Therefore, a university campus can be considered a good place for students to
increase their interethnic interactions.

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Somayeh Mortazavi Ganji Ketab, Ezhar Tamam, Jusang Bolong & Saeed Pahlevan Sharif

Table 2. Descriptive statistic regarding respondents offline interethnic interaction

Items Frequency Percentage


Every day 160 46.6
3-5 days in a week 87 25.4
1-2 days in a week 52 15.2
Once a week 26 7.6
Rarely 18 5.2
Never 0 0
Total 343 100

4.2 Online Interethnic Interaction

As indicated in Table 3, the students were asked about the frequency of their
online interaction with students of different ethnicities. The findings show that the
frequencies of interaction were 3 to 5 days in a week (24.2%), 1 to 2 days in a week
(20.4%), followed by every day (19.8%), once a week and rarely (16.9%), while six of
the respondents had never experienced any online interaction with peers or students
from different ethnicities.
The result indicates that when it comes to online interethnic interactions,
respondents preferred to reduce their interaction with peers of different ethnicities
compared to offline communication. Students can choose and decide their contacts
in cyber realm. The findings show that students online interethnic interaction was
decreased and did not mirror their offline communication style. Although almost
half of the respondents had daily face-to-face interethnic interaction on campus, this
number decreased to less than 20% when it came to online interethnic interaction. In
addition, there were six students who have never had online interethnic interaction.
In other words, although all the respondents had offline interaction with peers of
other ethnicities, some of them decided to have no online interethnic interaction.

Table 3. Descriptive statistics regarding respondents online interethnic interaction

Items Frequency Percentage


3-5 days in a week 83 24.2
1-2 days in a week 70 20.4
Every day 68 19.8
Once a week 58 16.9
Rarely 58 16.9
Never 6 1.8
Total 343 100

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4.3 Type of Online Media

The respondents were also asked the type of online media that they employed for
online interaction. As shown in Table 4, the results reveal that the majority of the
respondents used social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Myspace (85.7%).
The findings also showed that 10% of the respondents used chat rooms for interaction
with peers and students from different ethnicities followed by emails (2.9%) and
instant messaging like Yahoo messenger, Google talk, Skype and Oovoo (1.2%). The
findings reveal that Malaysian students are very attached to social media for their
interethnic communication. More than two-thirds of the respondents preferred to
employ social networking sites for their online communication underscoring the
importance of social media in interethnic interaction among Malaysian students.

Table 4. Descriptive statistics regarding type of online media usage for interethnic
interaction

Items Frequency Percentage


Social networks 294 85.7
Chat rooms 35 10.2
Email 10 2.9
Instant messaging 4 1.2
Total 343 100

4.4 Hypothesis Testing

A structural equation model (SEM) was developed to test the hypotheses that have
been identified earlier. To test the hypothesis, the relationship between ethnocentrism
and offline and online interethnic interactions were measured. As shown in Table 5,
ethnocentrism has a significant negative effect on offline interethnic interaction (
= -0.27, p = 0.001). Squared multiple correlations for offline interethnic interaction
was measured at 7% and this indicates that 7% of this construct is explained by this
model. So, the finding indicates that the first hypothesis of this study is supported.
The results indicate that ethnocentrism has a negative relationship with face-to-face
interethnic interaction among students. In other words, students with ethnocentric
attitudes had less interaction with peers and students of other ethnic groups.
As indicated in Table 5, ethnocentrism had a significant negative effect on
online interethnic interaction ( = -0.25, p = 0.001). Squared multiple correlations
for online interethnic interaction is 6% and indicates that 6% of this construct is
explained by this model. So, the result indicates that the second hypothesis of this
study is supported too. The findings show that ethnocentrism attitudes regenerated
in cyber realm among respondents.

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Somayeh Mortazavi Ganji Ketab, Ezhar Tamam, Jusang Bolong & Saeed Pahlevan Sharif

Table 5. Hypotheses test

Standardised S.E. Explained


Effect () Variance
H1: Ethnocentrism Offline Interethnic
-0.27* .068 7%
Interaction

H2: Ethnocentrism Online Interethnic


-0.25* .063 6%
Interaction
Sig. denotes a significant direct effect at 0.05.
* p < 0.001.

5. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

This study was carried out to determine the nature of relationships between
ethnocentrism and offline and online interethnic interactions among Malay,
Chinese, and Indian undergraduate students at two local multiethnic universities.
The motivation of the study came from the gap in the local literature regarding the
direct effect of ethnocentrism on interethnic interactions. The first hypothesis of
this study was: There is a relationship between ethnocentrism and offline interethnic
interaction among local students.
The results show that there is a significant and negative relationship which
confirmed that ethnocentric attitudes still existed among local students. These findings
indicate that Malaysian students are not so much interested in getting involved with
other ethnic students. The findings clearly show that ethnocentrism is negatively
correlated with face-to-face interethnic interaction. Although local students had
different group activities in campus, their ethnocentrism tendency prevented them
from mingling with other ethnicities easily. This negative attitude deterred students
to trust and cooperate with peers of different ethnics. So, the first hypothesis is
fully supported. The findings of the present study confirmed the lack of ethnical
integration in Malaysia (Merdeka Center, 2006; Yeoh, 2006; Tamam, 2013). In
addition, this finding supported previous studies that demonstrated ethnocentrism
was a barrier to effective intercultural communication (Lin et al., 2005).
A study in 2007 showed that the level of unity and ethnic relations in Malaysia
has declined (Aziz et al., 2007 as cited in Ridzuan et al., 2012). Similar studies have
shown that the lack of unity among the various ethnic groups in Malaysia is due to
the ethnocentric attitude (Isman & Hanafi, 2008 as cited in Ridzuan et al., 2012).
Whether or not ethnocentrism is identical to outright racism, ethnocentric attitudes
certainly encourage the negative manifestations of ethnic discrimination.
The second hypothesis of this study was that there is a relationship between
ethnocentrism and online interethnic interaction among local students. The students

24 Taylors Business Review, Vol. 5 Issue 1, February 2015


Impact of Ethnocentrism on Interethnic Interactions among Local Students in Malaysian Universities

ethnical attitudes prevented them from interacting with different ethnic groups
especially when it came to online interaction. The students did not even follow
their offline communication style. Although almost half of the respondents had
daily interethnic interaction, they preferred to decrease their contacts with students
of other ethnicities on online communication. In other words, they were not much
interested in enhancing their online interaction with their peers of other ethnic
groups and they preferred to communicate with in-group peers rather than out-
group ones. It showed ethnocentric people stayed away from outsiders and they did
not communicate with them on their own will.
Malaysian students who were more open to other ethnic peers could
have stronger communication and interact with them regardless of their negative
perception. This ethnocentric attitude which hampers intercultural communication
can decrease racial interaction in the whole community. These findings shed light on
ethnic issues in Malaysian universities and also showed that ethnicity had become
more important for Malaysian students than before. So, more effort should be
directed towards the Malaysian young generation to bring them closer despite these
fundamental differences.
As shown in this study, students had more offline interethnic interaction
compared to online interaction. Possibly this is due to the fact that they had classes
regularly, and thus had to interact and communicate with other ethnic groups whether
they liked it or not. However, online interaction is not just based on unavoidable
physical presence, but is a medium that is more dependent on conscious choice and
decisions to communicate actively in partaking in interethnic communication. Thus
in situations where they could choose whether or not to interact, they presumably
willing elected to not take that step.
Critical factors that facilitate or constrain interethnic interaction among
students need to be identified and should be dealt with accordingly. It is necessary
to identify which factors work better for each ethnic group in decreasing the level
of ethnocentrism. The present analysis did not provide the differential level of
ethnocentrism in each ethnic group. Hence, this can be considered as a shortcoming
of the present study.
The analysis in this study provided further evidence on the lack of unity and
cooperation among university students. Hence, universities need to shape and
boost interethnic interaction among students beyond the classroom. In addition,
multiethnic universities should encourage different strategies for cross-racial
interaction amongst students both online and in the campus.
Universities should reform their education systems and play an important role to
persuade students to engage in interethnic interaction. Group activities and specific
intervention programs need to be designed in order to raise students interethnic
interaction competencies. People in heterogeneous communities must know that
they cannot avoid interethnic interaction and need to break their racial shell and

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Somayeh Mortazavi Ganji Ketab, Ezhar Tamam, Jusang Bolong & Saeed Pahlevan Sharif

interact more with different races to build strong communication bridges for the
future.
It is recommended for future studies to investigate whether there is any other
reason rather than ethnocentrism that prevents students to interact with peers
of different ethnicities. Future studies can also expand this research in private
universities with minority Malay students to see whether the findings are the same
or not.

Open Access: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution
License (CC-BY 4.0) which permits any use, distribution and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original author(s) and the source are credited.

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