by Chloe Salzman
Graduating from Horace Greeley a year ago, I knew little to nothing of what to expect of the beginning of my college experience. All I knew was that it would be very different from Chappaqua, and that was exactly what I had signed up for. More specifically, I had looked for a school that would be massively more diverse than Chappaqua, and I succeeded. Of my freshman class, 49% of us identify as a Minority race, whereas 75.5% of Chappaqua is White. In my last year of high school, I thought about the diversity of Chappaqua a lot, not only in race, but also in cultural and social experiences; I was trying to prepare myself for life outside of our bubble, but struggled to find any tangible experiences that would prepare me for my future college life.
As most of my peers growing up were white, I came into college really unsure of how race dynamics would play out, both on the larger scheme and in my own personal sphere. Diversity’s presence affects one’s social experience because it creates, for many, an unprecedented proximity of different cultures and races. To my pleasure, I immediately began making friends from all around the country, and the world, from all sorts of different cultures; however, as my class began to settle into this new and diverse community, I noticed that individual social niches were less and less diverse. I’ve since learned that this phenomenon is not unique to my experiences, but rather happens in most colleges. And it isn’t just noticeable to the students–it’s actually been documented and studied. There’s a widespread tendency for students to create more homogeneous social groups, and depend on classes or dormitories to enhance the diversity of their lives.
Minorities, especially blacks, are not private about explaining their perspectives and their reasoning for segregating themselves. There is an inherent sense of community in a homogeneous group. What’s more, they attest to the social hierarchy, even in diverse and liberal environments, that exists in American social dynamics that put blacks at the bottom of the totem pole. This dynamic creates even more of an incentive to join racially segregated groups.
I’ve come now to understand this dynamic better than I ever could have from living in Chappaqua. More importantly, I’ve tried to find any way I can to be a part of a solution: in order to reap the benefits of a diverse school, you need to seek out that diversity, to involve yourself in events and affairs with people of all different cultures, and to be as supportive and egalitarian as you can be.
So, I urge every single student leaving Greeley and entering the real world, the world with diversity and prejudice against anyone, even towards those with privilege, to enter college ready to learn about and accept any and every culture, because the window of opportunity may not remain open forever.
If you go into college thinking of ways to meet the people who resemble your childhood friends, how will you grow? The person you were in high school will always be there and you will always be comfortable going back into a niche like Chappaqua. It takes intention and effort and curiosity to go to college and think “How are my friends different from me? How can I learn from them?”
Maybe the diversity of a college campus will be present in your immediate social circle, maybe it won’t. Even if it isn’t, that doesn’t mean you have failed at integrating new cultures into your life. On campus there will constantly be debates, discussions, and plays written, directed or performed by students. Take advantage of them. Care and be interested in what matters to your student body–not just to your friends–and you will automatically get something out of what the cultures around you have to offer.
When there was a Black Lives Matter protest at our annual tree lighting ceremony, the student body was forced to care. When Rape Happens Here was projected onto the front of a prominent, iconic building of our campus, to combat sexual violence and rape culture, we were forced to care. And when students were yelling so loudly at a Fight for $15 protest for an increase in minimum wage that the teachers in class were hardly audible, we were forced to care. All of that was simply part of my experience being present on a politically active campus. But when you internalize your campus spirit and diversity, then you benefit as an individual, and you take the lessons you learn outside of the classroom with you beyond college.
Chloe Salzman is a Horace Greeley High School graduate, class of 2014.