Don’t be bored, be diverse

Leaving one’s comfort zone to embrace diversity heightens the University experience

One year after he founded the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson pronounced, “This institution of my native state, the hobby of my old age, will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind, to explore and to expose every subject susceptible of it’s contemplation.” With this quote in mind, I pose the following questions to my peers here at U.Va.: How many rocks have you left unturned? Are the majority of your friends spitting images of you? How often do you look beyond your comfort zone for new ideas, experiences and involvement in our community?

The opportunities for enrichment at our University reach far beyond the walls of Cabell Hall, the Chemistry Building and the pavilions. The conversations I have had and the friendships I have made with people from every walk of life have taught me more than any professor ever could.

My peers have been my greatest teachers. If I had the chance to leave behind only one piece of advice after four years at the University, it would be to embrace diversity. In a school of nearly 15,000 undergraduate students, this should not be hard. Any person that makes the effort to get to know people of a different race, nationality, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion or political belief will find that there is a fountain of knowledge in each person that can help you look through the eyes of someone from a completely different background than you and to diversify your worldview. The diversity is here, I promise. Sometimes it just takes a little extra effort to find and to embrace.

I challenge every student at U.Va. to honestly assess his or her experience here, and if you think there could be more diversity in your life, find it. Some of the best ways that one can reach out to people with diverse backgrounds are:

• Attend general body meetings of student organizations you may have interest in, such as the Chinese Student Association, the Latino Student Alliance or the Queer Student Union. Even if you feel out of place the first time, continue to go and take part in activities and events.

• Join a semester-long Sustained Dialogue group. Talk with 10-15 peers about themes such as success, drugs and alcohol, race, religion, hook-up culture or honor at the University.

• Study abroad somewhere you have never traveled before. There is no better way to learn about another culture or society than actually immersing yourself in the daily routine of an Argentinian, Filipino, Italian or Moroccan person.

• Go with your friends to that party you have been invited to but always turned down because you thought it would be awkward or you would feel out of place. You might be surprised and make some friends you would have otherwise never met.

• Take a class that does not pertain to your major, whether it is Race and Ethnic Relations, Introduction to Brazilian Portuguese or African Archaeology. When else will you have the opportunity to learn about something that is not your intended field of study?

Our University is so unique in the fact that there is a chance to learn about nearly every culture, participate in a new event each weekend, and to talk to people from countries you may never get the chance to travel to. So, why not embrace it?

Embracing diversity has defined my own personal experience at U.Va.. The majority of my friends here are of a different race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, upbringing and background than me. Because of this, I am able to travel to India to visit my best friend during winter break, recognize my own social privileges, describe the difference between teaching styles in China and the United States and have the ability to articulate why being a “Southerner” from Virginia and Mississippi are not the same thing. For me, there is nothing more exciting than the chance to learn about the lives of other people. Needless to say, I never get bored.

I’m from Virginia. I know what it is like to have grown up here. So, why not learn about what it was like to have been raised in Haiti or Germany or Washington State? What is there to lose by learning about someone who has had a completely different life than the one that you have lived? It is with these questions in mind that I hope every student here takes advantage of the chance to embrace diversity. Embrace the University. Embrace our community. Don’t be bored. Be diverse.

Ben Hemenway is a fourth-year trustee.

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