By Mariel Valentine, Yeshiva University Admissions Advisor
When people hear the term diversity, they automatically think about race. Diversity is more than the color of skin. It is about age, gender, sexual orientation, career level, religion, political status, economic status and so much more. Growing up Puerto Rican in Chicago, I never realized how important diversity was to me until I went to college. The neighborhood that I was raised in was predominantly Puerto Rican. Being surrounded by the culture on a daily basis enriched my pride. The Latino students that made up the student body at my elementary school were also predominantly Puerto Rican. Everywhere I went as a kid, I was encased by my culture, it was all I knew.
As a freshman in high school, I was introduced to other Latino cultures. I was surrounded by Mexicans, Hondurans, Colombians, Dominicans, Guatemalans, Ecuadorians and so many more. It was a relief to get to know other cultures outside of my own. Since I was engulfed in my Puerto Rican culture so much, befriending fellow Latinos outside of my small world was comforting. Understanding and learning the different dialects were so fascinating as a teenager. With all this newfound knowledge of various cultures, I felt confident heading into the world of college.
We become adults once we enter the university world. Some of us are on our own, and it is where we learn how to be responsible and what it means to work. It is where we meet all kinds of people from all different walks of life. Many schools take pride in their diverse faculty and student body. But how does this diversity affect student success? As one higher ed reporter explained, “Diverse college campuses offer more worldviews for students to consider and engage with. College students can learn from peers with different perspectives shaped by a variety of experiences.”
In 2011, I entered my freshman year at the University of Illinois at Chicago, or UIC. It is a public university in the heart of the city. I felt prepared to access this new chapter and showcase how diverse I was in Latin American cultures. What I did not expect was to be pummeled by the infinite cultures that saturate UIC. I felt lonely and embarrassed at the lack of knowledge I had of any culture outside of the Latino cultures I learned in high school. I was afraid to expose my ignorance at the expense of offending anyone. Fortunately, the first friend I made was named Clarisse. She was a second-generation Filipino from Waukegan, Illinois. Since I was uneducated about the Filipino culture, I was fearful that I would insult her. I never realized how small of a bubble I lived in until I met her. I was so embarrassed that I knew nothing about her culture. I was determined to learn more and enrich my cultural diversity knowledge. I joined the Filipinos in Alliance club at the university and began to assimilate myself into the Filipino culture. It was such a wonderful experience to learn about a new culture outside of Latin America. Being in the Filipinos in Alliance club gave way to learning more about other Asian cultures as well.
Diversity allows for us to learn more about the various worldviews that people have and allows us to engage with them. Diversity gives us the ability to learn from each other and have a better understanding of the world around us. Being surrounded by the same people with the same mindset does not permit us to grow. It is important to immerse ourselves with those who are different from us. We might feel comfort with the same people because they are just like us, but it eventually creates somewhat of a barrier. I felt hopeless when I went to UIC. I was surrounded by so many different cultures and I was not aware of them, which made me feel embarrassed. Once I was introduced to a brand-new culture, I felt inspired to learn more from others.
It wasn’t until recently, working as an Admissions Advisor for Yeshiva University, that I realized how crucial diversity is when it comes to selecting a school. When I decided to go to the University of Illinois at Chicago, diversity did not play a factor at all. It was something that did not even cross my mind. Looking back now, I feel naive for not taking it into consideration. UIC has a very diverse population of students, which I am grateful that I had the opportunity to experience, but not every university offers that. I never considered the challenges of others when it comes to diversity.
Why Diversity in Education Matters
Being an Admissions Advisor for the online MSW program has opened my eyes to the reality that diversity plays a role in a prospective student’s decision to choose one school over another. It can sometimes be the make-or-break factor. However, what many prospective students do not realize is that an online program can extend and provide education to anyone around the world. The beauty is that you can be anywhere and complete your education. I actually completed my master’s in psychology online. I was at a point in my life where I could not afford dedicating time to attend any on-campus classes, but I wanted to continue my education. I was skeptical about completing my degree online at first, I was worried that the ability to engage in conversations with people from different cultures would be sacrificed. What I didn’t realize is that the online program brought people from all over the world to one platform. I had classmates who were living in Africa, Iran, Australia and the Caribbean. I personally believe online programs open the gates for diversity more so than on-campus programs.
I think it’s essential for prospective students to consider diversity when researching undergraduate and graduate schools. It might not be one of the top qualifying factors, but it should be somewhere on that list of needs. I believe it is also important for prospective students to realize the beauty that online education offers. It provides the convenience and diversity that many of us look for. I know that continuing your education is a big decision, especially when considering online. Those looking to continue their education, do your research. Do not be afraid of the online modality. Just like many things in life, it takes time to get used to something new and different but that’s the beauty of the journey. Select a program that fits around your life and not the other way around.
For those looking to get their Master of Social Work and are not sure if online is for them, I encourage you to review a previous live webinar held by YU’s online MSW program to offer a deeper glimpse into the online student experience. It is led by our very own online students who share their unique experiences in the program! Watch here.