A bit overzealous in my anticipation of becoming a college student, I follow my favorite schools very closely. Getting a feel for my potential peers is a huge comfort. One day during a lull between work and friends, I logged on to a college review site and indulged in a student-written account of one of my top-choice schools: College of Charleston. The author described the sincere and warm ambience of the medium-sized southern campus, whose academic buildings are nestled among shops of a vibrant historic city. Stumbling through the enchanting description, my attention was snagged on the typical female student advertised as a “southern belle.” It's not difficult to read between the lines of that statement: the author referred to an upper-class Caucasian being the norm. With a student body composition where minorities make up only 18%, it didn’t surprise me that race is a factor in being considered a typical student.
Being biracial and having visited the school myself, I can earnestly say that I could see myself as a grain of pilaf in the otherwise white rice . . . I stood out.
However, I didn’t find myself the least bit concerned about it. I felt that were I to join this meal, I would be a welcomed addition to it. In fact, I was more concerned about fitting into the music scene, where country tunes dominate (my least favorite genre). A lack of racial diversity hasn’t daunted me in my pursuit of the school, because while it is noticeable, it is not a factor of fitting into the student body, nor a cause of divide between students.
With South Carolina being a region of less diversity than I am accustomed to in Massachusetts, and two-thirds of the students at CofC coming from within the state, the school’s racial diversity is largely a result of the region’s racial makeup. It isn't a reflection of any admission biases or racial tension within the school, nor anything else that would concern me. I feel the school’s warm coastal welcome radiates toward me just as it would to any other applicant, and I can see myself matching the academic drive of other students.
My experience doesn’t quite reflect the atmosphere of every school where a certain lack of diversity is present. We’re living in a time where centuries of inequality and discrimination are being addressed and corrected more and more. No institution has inequity in mind on their campus, but some atmospheres do subliminally promote a divide between race, class, sexuality, religion, or gender, or have a slightly prejudice disposition. Spotting the difference, so you can be comfortable knowing your prospective school is a welcoming environment to all, is an important skill.
When looking at a school, your gut instincts on the student body are always worth exploring. If you encounter any red flags, don’t dismiss them simply because the college’s official website showcases all-too-marketable pictures of a melting pot of friends on their green.
At one point in my college search, I had discovered a gorgeous East Coast gem of a campus that really intrigued me. When I searched for information on the school, I was repeatedly told that the student body was unparalleled in physical attractiveness. At first I assumed it to be a result of the competitive athletics the area offered. It endorsed a student with a well-kept physique. But then I came across forums explaining that during the application process, the applicant is required to submit a picture of themselves. Many students at the school joke that admissions have a “good looks bias.” It could very possibly be by coincidence that the students are considered so physically appealing, but I was discouraged from pursuing this school. The possibility that a school values looks as a component of what students have to offer prevented me from wanting an education from them.
There are schools that hint at the same bias toward certain races, ethnicities, and other groups. Recognize that this is very different from an institution with a religious affiliation or a school designated for one gender. Schools with religious affiliation look for students who hold their values that pertain to that religion, and women’s/men’s schools are simply structured for one sex. Of course, there are schools that had once been for one sex and have since become available to all genders, and often these schools do have an imbalanced male-to-female ratio. It's up to your judgment whether you feel accepted at an institution designated for a specific type of student.
The best college experience typically involves meeting people who share your passions. If you step on campus and feel that those who surround you will judge you for something rather than who you are, then it isn't a school that will help you bloom. Many schools boast diversity because the myriad of cultures and ideas cultivate students with a holistic understanding of the world. Look for an environment where you get a taste of a variety of cultures, personalities, and outlooks on life!