At college, not all of your education happens inside the classroom. You may spend a large portion of your time in lectures and labs mastering the content on your syllabus, but the lessons you learn outside the classroom walls will have great value for you long after you graduate. When choosing a school, considering those that value campus diversity will give you the opportunity to learn from others with perspectives different than yours. Going this route means you’ll leave college with the skills necessary to succeed in our increasingly diverse world.
Human beings have a natural tendency to surround themselves with similarly minded people — it’s more comfortable to be in like-minded company as peers who hold similar beliefs are less likely to challenge you. The bad news: Avoiding conflict also means you avoid the opportunity to see from another perspective. It can make it near impossible to empathize with those who are different than you are.
Democrats Like Democrats; Republicans, Republicans
Politics offers a great example of this natural inclination towards familiarity. According to a recent poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics, young Republicans are much more likely than young Democrats to have close relationships with gun owners, people who are Born Again or Evangelical, veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan and millionaires. Democrats, on the other hand, are much more likely than Republicans to have a close relationship with people who are LGBTQ.
From a policy perspective, Republicans generally oppose gun control. Generally, they oppose abortion and gay marriage, believe in increased military spending and disagree with raising taxes for anyone including the wealthy. Democrats, on the other hand, generally support gay marriage.
This knowledge of the parties’ leanings and the data from the Harvard study together show how we tend to group ourselves into “bubbles” of people who hold the same beliefs as we do. Not only that, but our actions are influenced heavily by those around us — Republicans who have close relationships with gun owners may draw from these experiences as they consider whether or not the government should limit gun ownership. Similarly, Democrats who have a close relationship with people who are LGBTQ may be more likely to advocate for gay marriage since they have direct experience with those affected by this legislation.
Listen and Learn at College
College can be a microcosm that gives you the chance to venture beyond this comfort zone. That is, if you choose the right one! Not only will campus diversity — including ethnic diversity and socioeconomic diversity — give you an opportunity to hear from people who come from different backgrounds than you do, but it’ll also give you an opportunity to practice healthy debate and prepare you for working in our diverse world.
In high school, you may have felt limited in what you could express since teachers were seen as elder authorities and the threat of being sent to the principal’s office for questioning this authority was looming. At college, your professors are looking for more discussion and active learning. Not only will you be able to hear different perspectives if you choose a college that prioritizes diversity, but you’ll have a chance to debate differences respectfully. From class discussions to team projects that offer opportunities to engage directly with fellow classmates, the opportunities to learn all sides of the story as you form your opinions will give you great practice for when you need to make big personal and professional decisions in the future.
Diversity’s Benefits Last
A diverse class equals a diverse workforce, which is a good thing for all according to Harvard Business Review. The challenges of working with people who are different from you help to increase the quality of your work, because members of these working groups are more likely to be called on personal biases. A better decision-making process is possible when all information is considered, and being a part of a diverse team can help you process facts more carefully since it’s less safe to make assumptions about where everyone stands on an issue.
Beyond focusing more on facts, diverse teams are also more innovative, because more ideas are brought to the table when everyone doesn’t look, talk or think in the same way. Gender diversity has been shown to make a company more innovative.
Faculty Diversity Matters, Too
Campuses that are truly diverse have different perspectives represented in their faculty as well as their student body. Unfortunately, most colleges have some work to do in this department. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 58 percent of full-time professors at degree-granting post-secondary institutions are White males and 26 percent are White females. 2 percent are Black males, 1 percent are Black females, 2 percent are Hispanic males, 1 percent are Hispanic females, 7 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander males and 2 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander females. Less than 1 percent are American Indian/Alaska Native and of two or more races.
Diverse campuses and programs are filled with unique and beneficial opportunities. Choosing a college that will allow you to immerse yourself in different cultures will enrich your education, so be sure to add campus diversity to your list of things to consider as you choose a school.