The true meaning of diversity

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Back during my Model United Nations days in high school, my team discussed the heavily debated topic of affirmative action. I spoke out against this topic as a high school sophomore, strictly promoting equality in the college admissions process. My Model U.N. advisor — after several students gave speeches against affirmative action for the same reason — told us that we would all be thankful for affirmative action as college students. He told us all that as college students, we should strive for an environment that embodies diversity.

I attempted to look past my sheltered lens, as I grew up in a typical middle-class, predominantly white New Jersey suburb, where most students wore the most popular, expensive brands and drove Honda Civics. My parents continued to provide me with the standard rhetoric that when I got to college, I would be exposed to many different people with many different backgrounds. They tried to teach me to be non-judgmental, as everyone has a different story that made them who they are today, and not all students were given as many opportunities as myself and other students in my community.

The College of William and Mary is completely blind in the college admissions process with the exception of gender. About 55 percent of the student body is made up of females. Roughly 70 percent of students live in state, while 30 percent live out of state. 30 percent are students of color. These statistics could be alarming to any perspective student — as they were to me — and these percentages objectively revealed to me that there would be little to no ethnic, gender and potentially socio-economic diversity.

I was completely wrong. Despite such a high volume of students from the same geographic area, I have yet to meet the typical “NOVA” student. While the College has a high percentage of white students, every student has a different story, family life and personality.

My government professor recently asked students in my class to raise their hands if their parents’ socio-economic backgrounds would fall under upper or upper-middle class. More than half of my 30-person class raised their hands, and I was completely surprised. The attitudes, appearances, mannerisms and political ideologies do not match the stereotypical, but false, viewpoints of the typical upper-class student.

I learned that, while the College does not have affirmative action policies in place, this campus is exploding with different personalities, opportunities and cultures. It was through this demonstration that I learned differences in race, gender and socio-economic status do not exemplify diversity. Diversity is truly showcased through the personalities of people, unique due to differences in upbringing and DNA.

Reaching statistical quotas on race and incomes will not ensure diversity any more than a unique response to a college admissions essay will. Institutions, in both college and the workforce, believe showcasing diversity through numbers will convince society that racism, sexism and prejudices do not exist. Rather, these physical differences are just a drop in the pond of diversity. Diversity entails much more than the color of your skin or how much money your parents make.

I have had the privilege of coming across the most vibrant, unique, passionate and inspiring people during my short time on campus. While my high school Model U.N. advisor was correct that I would one day be thankful for the diversity on my campus, he was wrong that it would be due to affirmative action.

Email Daria Grastara at dagrastara@email.wm.edu.