Tate Cohen-Kristiansen: Diversity Helps Students Learn More Effectively

Tate Cohen-Kristiansen;

common-1300520_960_720Diversity is important on college campuses because it helps ensures that students expand their minds and social development by engaging with people from different backgrounds and perspectives. Going to college can be an experience like no other, in the sense that it opens up a door for an entirely new group of people to flood into your life. The inner city, small town, farm and suburb all converge on campus, introducing students to new ideas and perspectives. Having only people similar to you around you all the time isn’t sufficient for self development, because the same ideas tend to circle around without adding anything new. Universities have big potential to mix people from all over the country and from entirely different backgrounds, enriching one another and the community as a whole.

I was fortunate to have attended Montgomery Blair High School near Washington, D.C., that’s proudly ranked the 56th most diverse high school in the nation. If I were to break down the student body of 3,000 into only 100 people, 29 would be African American, 27 Latino, 25 white, and 19 would be of Asian ancestry. Blair students recently staged a well publicized school-wide walkout to protest the election of Donald Trump, who the students view as hostile to minority rights. This was significant because students of all different kinds of backgrounds and races banded together in the search for a common goal. When you consider that all of these students are only high schoolers, it’s interesting to think of the implications that a gathering like this would have among more mature college students.

Coming to Elon was a big of a shock to me. Although the University is aware of the need for greater diversity, it is currently mostly white, at least in comparison to what I am used to. Other Elon students have had different experiences and rave about how this is the most diverse school they’ve ever attended. Although that’s a bit jarring to hear, it’s good that these kids are finally getting a chance to work with peers who aren’t the same race and bring different life experiences to campus.

There’s evidence to support that diversity can be extremely helpful when it comes to education. Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox, and Diana Cordova-Cobo of Teachers College Columbia explain that, “researchers have documented that students’ exposure to other students who are different from themselves and the novel ideas and challenges that such exposure brings leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving.” This goes to show that even a little bit of diversity on college campuses can go a long way if all types of students interact with each other. Along with this, they said, “Students who attend colleges and universities with more racially and ethnically diverse student bodies are said to be exposed to a wider array of experiences, outlooks, and ideas that can potentially enhance the education of all students,” which further backs the idea of diversity being essential on campus. In addition to this, the U.S. Department of Labor states that, “The declining labor force share of the Whites coincides with faster growth of other race and ethnic groups in the U.S. workforce” which goes to show that in the future (2050 according to their predictions) the workforce will be much more diverse than it is today, calling for a need to diversify in earlier stages of learning to ensure workplaces run smoothly.

Diversity on college campuses is also very important to ensure that pre-existing stereotypes of different races and types of people can be challenged and broken. Without ever having interacted with people unlike yourself, it’s hard to understand/know how to act in an increasingly diverse world. Lauren Lyons elaborates on this with her concept of “code switching”, which is essentially acting differently based on whom you are around. Lyons says that, “My sophomore year of highschool, I was admitted to a prestigious girls school in Brentwood (a very upper-class suburb of Los Angeles). I’d spend that 1.5- to 2-hour bus commute to school transitioning from the girl from Compton, into the girl who lied about where she grew up, practiced removing the ‘urban’ words and inflections from her lexicon, and was sure to keep her sweater on to conceal the missing school logo on her out-of-uniform plain white K-mart blouse.” This shows Lyons’s struggle with being at a school that has little diversity; so little diversity, in fact, that she feels the need to change who she is as a person in order to be comfortable around the other students. When there’s a rich diversity of students at a school, code switching becomes less of an issue as all students feel normal and accepted for who they are. When students don’t need to worry about changing who they are to in, they can focus more on doing work which enhances learning capability.

Overall, diversity is essential to a meaningful education. It’s important to grasp the many ways diversity can help, whether by the “improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving” or the exposure to a wide array of experiences, outlooks and ideas. It has the potential to help students of all backgrounds open both their minds and their hearts. Coming from a high school with lots of diversity, I believe it is essential for learning and social development.