Being a college student for the past three weeks has been an adjustment, to say the least. Besides settling into day-to-day life on campus, I’ve also noticed something I was aware of but hadn't seen as much: not everyone is like me.
This is not a bad thing. In fact, I was looking forward to meeting people with different upbringings and life experiences than my own. I was looking forward to meeting different people. I was looking forward to experiencing “diversity.”
In the last few weeks, I began to think about what that word represents.
Diversity comes in many forms, including ethnicity, sexuality, religion and more. In particular, I started thinking about the diversity of thought, and how it is essential to a thriving community and society.
When diversity of thought exists, positive outcomes and obstacles arise. When a situation turns sour, a variety of beliefs and opinions can clash, leading to an argument, protests or even violence.
Debra Mashek, a former psychology professor at Harvey Mudd College believes, “The reason viewpoint diversity is valuable is because we bring those differing viewpoints into conversation with one another, and that allows us to interrogate ideas, to figure out the limits of our own reasoning and to develop a deeper understanding.”
We cannot resolve problems if we do not allow ourselves to listen and converse with those who think differently than us. As a professor, Mashek recognizes that diversity of thought is important to a student’s growth.
Today, our public discourse is crowded with opinions and – regardless of validity – we need to let them be heard, rather than shut them down.
For generations, college campuses have been the birthplace of many profound creations, including social media platforms, or start-up business that move out into the big city. College is a time to shape our identities based on our background and exposure to new ideas, which includes the development of critical thought and debate.
When asked about what schools are looking for today, Matthew T. Proto, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Colby College said, “We are not actually looking for the perfect student, but the student who brings a certain diversity of thought.”
We need to consider what Proto is pointing out.
Diversity comes in many forms, but without diversity of thought, we cannot recognize where we disagree and why. College campuses are clearly looking for diversity, not just in outward appearance but in the way one thinks.
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So, where is the push from the students? Where is this encouragement?
We need more.
We should be encouraging each other as students to consider the “other side” and, at the very least, be respectful of each other. We cannot grow outside of our own bubbles without the exposure to different viewpoints, backgrounds and beliefs. Allowing our viewpoints to be challenged is the first step to exploring new avenues for a career, a purpose or a personally held truth.
When protests turn into violent outbursts, there tends to be a reason why. One group shuts down the other’s speech, while the other group wants to be heard. The First Amendment allows U.S. citizens to speak freely regardless of opinion, and college is the perfect place for this — and the best example of experimentation with debate.
You’re thrown into an environment in which many people think in different ways, and believe in different things. You can either choose to not associate yourself with those you are unlike you, or immerse yourself in what is outside of your immediate circle.
Robert Putnam, the author of best selling novel Bowling Alone, illustrates this point by commenting on social engagement and how it benefits both the individual and society as a whole. Putnam makes the point that a diverse society can only be held together when you have common aspirations.
If we have the common aspiration of agreeing to disagree, acknowledging diversity in the form of thought and sharing dialogue, our campus community will prosper, and so will the students living in it.
We cannot resolve problems if we do not allow ourselves to listen and converse with those who think differently than ourselves.