Before coming to W&L, I never understood why colleges aimed for diversity or how affirmative action was used to get a better student body. To me, people are people: diversity of thoughts matter. Skin color and parents’ nationality - not so much.
While I still believe diversity of thoughts matter, different cultures, experiences, and countries of origins have such a defining impact on everything from how we celebrate leisure time dancing and eating, to answering the tough ethical questions of how to treat women or the justice of war. Before coming to college, I didn’t know that yet. Diversity wasn’t on my radar, so I decided to go to a school that is not known for its diversity.
Maya Epelbaum '16 speaks at the Office of Diversity and Inclusion Parents' Weekend Dinner.
Luckily, since there are so few people from the same culture, it forces us to branch out and meet people from different cultures. Even before starting college, at my pre-orientation trip, I talked to Murtaza, the first Muslim I’ve ever met, who explained to us how he just finished fasting during Ramadan. Over the next few weeks I ate Indian food with Meera and Mithra, chatted about military differences with Ale from the peaceful Costa Rica, and even discussed Israeli-Palestinian relations with Mohammed. For all of these people, diversity wasn’t a resume builder; it was why they approach life the way they do.
That begged the question, though, what do I bring to the table? If you look at my skin color, I’m obviously white, yet I am a first-generation immigrant, a Jew, and I have learned to fully appreciate diversity. Out of all these traits, the first one is what makes me technically “diverse,” but the last one, my appreciation, is what I believe truly makes me diverse. The most important part about having diversity on a campus, is having open-mindedness as well. During a birthday party one year, my friend pointed out that no one around the table was white. I reminded them that I was there, and she said, “Well, you’re Jewish.” I realized that that was not what made my friends consider me diverse. It is that I bring something new to the table with my own background and culture, just as everyone else can. To me, diversity isn’t a skin color; it’s a state of mind. It is your individual, independent, background that you are willing to share with others.