Why Does Diversity Matter at College Anyway?

8 ways meeting and working with different people in college can help you in the future.

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Henry Louis Gates Jr., President Barack Obama, and Police Sgt. James Crowley have certainly done their part to get race relations into the national discussion. But diversity is hot on college campuses, too—not only race, ethnicity, and gender but also religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and age. But why is diversity important in college at all? Visiting blogger Aaron Thompson, professor of sociology at Eastern Kentucky University and coauthor (with Joe Cuseo) of Diversity and the College Experience, offers eight reasons why diversity matters at college:

1. Diversity expands worldliness. College might be the first time you have had the opportunity to have real interaction with people from diverse groups. Whether we like it or not, many times we find ourselves segregated from other groups in schools, churches, and our own neighborhoods. A college campus is like opening the door to the entire world without traveling anywhere else.

2. Diversity enhances social development. Interacting with people from a variety of groups widens your social circle by expanding the pool of people with whom you can associate and develop relationships. Consider how boring your conversations would be if you only had friends who had everything in common with you.

3. Diversity prepares students for future career success. Successful performance in today's diverse workforce requires sensitivity to human differences and the ability to relate to people from different cultural backgrounds. America's workforce is more diverse than at any time in the nation's history, and the percentage of America's working-age population comprised of members of minority groups is expected to increase from 34 percent to 55 percent by 2050.

4. Diversity prepares students for work in a global society. No matter what profession you enter, you'll find yourself working with employers, employees, coworkers, customers and clients from diverse backgrounds—worldwide. By experiencing diversity in college, you are laying the groundwork to be comfortable working and interacting with a variety of individuals of all nationalities.

5. Interactions with people different from ourselves increase our knowledge base. Research consistently shows that we learn more from people who are different from us than we do from people who are similar to us. Just as you "think harder" when you encounter new material in a college course, you will do the same when you interact with a diverse group of people.

6. Diversity promotes creative thinking. Diversity expands your capacity for viewing issues or problems from multiple perspectives, angles, and vantage points. These diverse vantage points work to your advantage when you encounter new problems in different contexts and situations. Rather than viewing the world through a single-focus lens, you are able to expand your views and consider multiple options when making decisions and weighing issues of, for example, morality and ethics.

7. Diversity enhances self-awareness. Learning from people whose backgrounds and experiences differ from your own sharpens your self-knowledge and self-insight by allowing you to compare and contrast your life experiences with others whose life experiences differ sharply from your own. By being more self-aware, you are more capable of making informed decisions about your academic and professional future.

8. Diversity enriches the multiple perspectives developed by a liberal arts education. Diversity magnifies the power of a general education by helping to liberate you from the tunnel vision of an ethnocentric and egocentric viewpoint. By moving beyond yourself, you gain a panoramic perspective of the world around you and a more complete view of your place in it.

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