The month of August will be coming to an end soon and the college application season will soon start for the 2012-2013 year. One application, also known as the Common Application is widely used among private colleges all over the United States. As a part of the application students can choose from a variety of essay topics one in particular asks students to “illustrate [what] they would bring to the diversity in a college community or an encounter that [demonstrates] the importance of diversity to [them].” While the essay question has been a part of the Common Application for several years, the idea of diversity or lack of diversity became a debatable topic in one of the United States top research universities, when one student decided to make a post online.
Alexandra Wallace, a University of California, Los Angeles (U.C.L.A.) student was thrown into the media last spring because of a YouTube video she posted about Asian students at U.C.L.A. In The New York Times article U.C.L.A. Student’s Video Rant Against Asians Fuels Firestorm, Ian Lovett describes Wallace’s video as a rant about “Asian students using cellphones in the library.” According to Lovett, Wallace’s video became the “subject of nationwide condemnation and the catalyst of a debate about racial intolerance and free speech.” The attention Alexandra Wallace received for her insensitive video was overwhelming but her lack of education was more shocking. Even though she attended a top university Ms. Wallace was unaware of diversity etiquette. Instead of stereotyping different groups of people Alexandra Wallace should have considered these few tips before posting her video:
- Be Open-Minded:
Just like many colleges are striving for diversity you should strive for it in yourself. According to Positively Present, a website offering tips on how to have a positive mind, being open-minded allows you to “experience new ideas and…challenge[s] the beliefs you currently have.” Being open-minded doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything you encounter, it only keeps you from limiting yourself.
- Be Respectful:
This point is very important because sometimes when we are arguing about issues we truly care about respect can go out the door. (Kind of like in Ms. Wallace’s video). I really ask that you stay level-headed, even though it may be difficult, and only think about the arguments you are stating. If your arguments start to turn into personal attacks then maybe you should take some time to calm yourself down. Take as guidance Cornell’s statement of understanding. “This understanding…includes respecting and being sensitive to the rights of others while not condoning messages or actions that promote hatred, intolerance or violence.”
- Be Aware:
Sometimes comments can be more hurtful than helpful so I suggest being cautious of your words when first meeting new people. Try not to be stereotypical even though, according to Henrik Edberg, writer of the Positivity Blog “Everyone stereotypes everyone on first impression, even if [they] are reluctant to do it.” Remember, not everyone is going to automatically dispel everything they have been taught in order to have a clearer image of you. It is up to both parties to know that stereotyping is going to bring some misunderstandings. When you meet someone that is misinformed instead of trying to blame that person for their ignorance, try and give them the information they need to become a more educated individual, which brings me to my last point.
- Be Educated:
This might be the most important point when talking about diversity because meeting new people is about learning and if you are too quick on making assumptions of other races, religious groups, or social groups you limit your understanding of others. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to try and educate yourself about the different cultures and people you will encounter, not just in college but in life as well. Do some research on stereotypes that you have followed and who knows what you might discover.
I hope my tips have helped but if you still need some more insight on diversity take an opportunity to read my leap into a more diverse world very similar to Ms. Wallace’s.
When I first stepped onto the U.C.L.A. campus I knew the mix of students I would encounter in my next four years there would be much more diverse than what I was used to. My high school had been predominantly Hispanic and African American so the change to a school where only 17% of the student body was comprised of Hispanics was a little difficult for me. I was so used to being surrounded by people with cultural backgrounds similar to mine that I didn’t realize how different it would be for me to enter a more ‘diverse setting. Diversity for me wasn’t seeing equal representations of different races; it was being able to throw myself into a community that was unlike my own.
Unlike Ms. Wallace, I see myself prepared and ready for a more diverse community. Yet this doesn’t stop me from using the resources available in my university as well as my new community. At my school I am able to communicate with people of different cultures and backgrounds but I also have the option of joining a Hispanic/Latino cultural club if I ever feel lost on campus. If you feel lost or disconnected I urge you to seek a group that shares the same cultural, social, or religious values as yourself. The thing about living in a diverse environment is that you are able to draw from different perspectives but still remain your own self.
[Image by Keawtavee]