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Encouraging diversity

Bianca Almada | Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Notre Dame is not a university known for its diversity. Most of its students fit within a certain archetype: they are white, Catholic, conservative, suburban and from the upper-middle class. Now, there is nothing wrong with fitting into this archetype. I beg this question, however: What about the students who do not?
I am the first to admit that I lived a sheltered childhood. I was raised in the safe community of Alta Loma, Calif., attended church every Sunday and was enrolled in a private, single-sex school. Nearly everyone I knew was like me in some way – we were of the same religion, hometown or economic background. For a very long time, I believed that everyone had a life like mine. I lived in a fantasy world, blissfully unaware of the vastness of the planet. But I soon discovered that living in bubbles gets us nowhere. There is so much more to life than my personal experiences, my parents’ ideals and what they teach us in school.
Now, I am a “different one” in a sea of similarity. As both a Hispanic and a not-so-conservative Notre Dame student, I argue that minority students are crucial to the development of this campus. Variety is the spice of life, and it is important to leave college knowing that not everyone in the world is exactly like you, nor should they aspire to be just like you.
College is the in-between time because college students are, or at least should be, still growing and changing before they embark on their journeys in the “real world.” They are working on fully developing their religious beliefs, academic interests and political ideologies. In order for this to occur properly, students need the opportunity to branch out and learn from people who are different from them. Continued reassurance that they are correct about everything they believe does not help them grow; in fact, it does just the opposite.
College students need to reflect upon the ideals of their parents, communities and backgrounds and decide which ones they want to adopt for their adult lives rather than just accepting these ideals at face value. They must seek people who are as passionate as they are but who are also completely different from them. They should loudly state their opinions and be countered by those who disagree. They must be stimulated by the opinions of others and then reevaluate their own.
Close-mindedness has no place on this campus. Students often arrive having a perfect idea of what they believe in their head, and that is great, unless they absolutely refuse to alter any of their perceptions. This confidence in ideology becomes negative if students refuse to be open to other thoughts, viewpoints or ways of life. It becomes negative if students enter college thinking they already know it all and that there is no room for change or improvement regarding their opinions.
Students who are “different” by Notre Dame standards – cultural minorities, homosexuals, political liberals, non-Catholics etc. – should not focus their energy on trying to assimilate into what they believe to be Notre Dame culture. They should celebrate their diversity and what it is that makes them different, sharing it with others instead of trying to hide it.
I wholeheartedly enjoy being a minority student. It gives me the opportunity to make people familiar with things they may have never known. I have the opportunity to provide a unique perspective and to defend myself against stereotypes and misunderstandings. I can learn from the many people at this university who are different from me, and hopefully they can also learn from me. My only wish is that there were more of us to share diverse opinions and backgrounds, and that the student population might be more apt to listen and learn.
Bianca Almada is a freshman residing in Cavanaugh Hall. She is studying English, Spanish and journalism. She can be contacted at [email protected]
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.