You often hear about diversity on college campuses. But what is “diversity,” really? When I think of diversity, I focus on one word: culture. People around the world and even people down the street have different cultures. At first glance, I am white with brown hair and brown eyes, middle class, Christian, and about 5'8". But there is more to diversity than demographics. I’m unique because I like to learn; have a rudimentary music background; play chess; listen to 70s, 80s, and 90s music; and live on a farm. I stand out in these ways because that is my way of life. My culture is different than others, and so is everyone else's. That is what makes college so amazing: thousands of people with different backgrounds and viewpoints are brought together, creating greater understanding and exposure to new things. So here is a quick checklist to help you find your uniqueness and culture, bringing a net gain of diversity to your college campus.
1. Your home life
Where do you live: In a city or a small town? On a farm or in the mountains? In a desert or on an island? Even if you go to the university down the street, there is still a good chance you have a unique home life. Everyone has different families, and their families help shape them. What are your parents' careers? I have a friend whose parents love their country and the US military, and sure enough, he wants to join the Air Force. What is your socioeconomic background? Are you the first in your family to go to college? If there is a unique aspect of your childhood, that can bring rich diversity to your campus. Colleges love that. That is why colleges recruit internationally—different countries are always interesting, and they always bring diversity, often with different languages, traditions, and food.
2. Your customs
Speaking of which: cultural customs contribute majorly to campus diversity. There are millions of bilingual families in America—are you fluent in another language? Do you observe any non-mainstream holidays (not including Talk Like a Pirate Day)? Can you make cuisine from your place of origin? All this is welcomed and celebrated on college campuses (especially the food). Plus, sharing them with others will help you stay connected to your roots while you’re away from home.
3. Your hobbies
Have you been a dancer since the age of three? Are you a world-class spelling bee champion? Do you play intramural basketball? No matter what you do, it is awesome and special and there is probably a club for that already in existence at your school. You can join academic clubs, athletic clubs, food clubs, or even start your own new club! You can also join a club that you have never tried before college. Do you want to learn a martial art? Go for it. Do you want to learn how to paint? Why not? Do you want to learn to sing? Just don't try to make a career out of it, please. If you participate in a hobby, you are making your school more diverse. Hobbies are cultures.
4. Your beliefs
Be careful how you use this topic to add to diversity, because it is a sensitive issue. Religion and politics should not be brought up all the time, but in a respectful manner and atmosphere. Many people in America are Christian, but there are a lot of different denominations of Christianity. If you are Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, or Atheist, you can also contribute to your college’s diversity. If you are a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or what have you, let it shine. However, be aware that when you talk about beliefs, there is a chance someone will rub someone else the wrong way. Always be respectful to people who have different beliefs than yours. And remember, sometimes the best thing you can do is agree to disagree.
Expand your cultural competence with study abroad
If you want to surround yourself with a new culture, you can always study abroad. Then you will add to the diversity of another country's university. You will also develop a whole new frame of mind and maybe even learn a new language. You can then can take what you have learned from your travels back to your campus and share your experiences with others. Studying abroad is not for everyone, but even if you don't think it is your kind of adventure, you should look into it anyway. There are many exciting possibilities for you to seek at college.
College is often the first—and maybe even the only—opportunity in your life that you will be able to interact with so many people from such radically different backgrounds. Not only is a campus better with diversity, but you will be better developed with diversity—whether cultural, racial, ethnic, economic, geographic, academic, age, or attitudinal. You will have an open mind to other cultures, find ways to interact with different people, broaden your horizons, and make friends you may never have met in other circumstances. You have a personal culture that is unique to you and you only. And when students unite on a campus, it creates a whole new culture totally unique to that campus. So go share your culture, whatever it is. Find what makes you unique, and go make your mark on the world.
You can learn a lot more about diverse colleges and ways you can promote inclusivity in our College Diversity section.