One big mosaic: Diversity on college campuses


One of the things your student might want to consider when choosing a college is an indication that the university supports a diverse student body. If they attend a college with lots of people who are different than they are, they’ll have the opportunity to learn from people of all different backgrounds — a valuable part of the college experience. And interacting with various types of people will prepare them for their career after college, where they’ll work with people from all different backgrounds.

What exactly does diversity mean? A diverse college campus means the students have a range of countries of origin, cultural and ethnic identities, religious beliefs, income levels, political affiliations, sexual preferences, and gender identities.

Holly Singh, executive director of the International Students and Scholars Center at Arizona State University, shares his thoughts about diversity on campus.

How high should a student put campus diversity on their list of considerations when choosing a college?

It should be a high consideration because a diverse university gives a lot more to a student; the idea of sharing cultures becomes the central point around which the university is defined. Diverse people bring diverse knowledge, and sharing that diverse knowledge is critical to the growth of an individual. It’s a true added value for a higher education institution and an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

How can a student find out how diverse a particular college is? Can they get statistics somewhere? And what should they look for beyond the numbers?

You can find most of that information on a university’s website. But visiting a university to gauge how diverse it is can be is valuable. Engaging with the staff and faculty is also important for someone trying to decide where they want to study. But at the end of the day, it’s important for the student to find a good fit with whatever university they choose and that they are comfortable with that choice.

What are the benefits of attending a highly diverse college?

When students come from different backgrounds, they bring with them different experiences, perspectives and ideas. People see these differences and usually want to learn more about them. A diverse college means a great opportunity to truly learn from people of different backgrounds.

What are some challenges that come with a diverse campus population?

First and foremost, teaching can’t be homogeneous anymore. Professors have to constantly learn how to teach and what to teach to culturally diverse student populations. Another challenge is that in the U.S. education system, critical thinking — using logic to understand and evaluate arguments, solving problems systematically, analyzing, and evaluating to form a judgment — is important and most domestic students grow up with that idea, whereas many international students may grow up with the mindset that it’s theoretical knowledge that’s important, so there can be some adjustment for them.

How can students handle the shock of a new culture on a college campus?

Just being aware of the intercultural adjustment cycle is the best way to be prepared for the shock. And contrary to its name, the intercultural adjustment cycle doesn’t only affect international students. It can affect any student experiencing the change of going to a new college. 

The intercultural adjustment cycle works like this: As a student prepares to enter a new culture and new place, they’re usually a little anxious. That’s normal. The first few days are usually a honeymoon phase in which they’re meeting people and not really missing home. Then reality kicks in and there are some isolation points they’re missing food from home, their family, and the things that they were comfortable with. The reality is that it’s hard to live in a new place without family members. But after students go through that for a little while, they adjust to the new reality. This intercultural adjustment cycle plays a critical role in the success or failure of a student, so being aware of it is key.