A recent U.S. News and World Report article placed Union College at the number one spot for diversity in its category (Midwest colleges with fewer than 50 master’s graduates each year). The data is sampled from 97 other schools in the region, with diversity indexes ranging from 13 to 53 percent.
On their website, there’s a detailed list and a link to the methodology on how results for diversity are calculated. Ethnic categories taken into consideration were non-Hispanic African-American, Hispanic, American Indian, Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian, Asian, non-Hispanic white and multiracial (two or more races). Students who did not identify as members of any of the above demographic groups are classified as non-Hispanic whites for the purpose of this calculation.
Amongst the student body, the response to this news has ranged from a raised eyebrow to a mere smirk of interest. Students seem to have mixed feelings about diversity on campus. Ryan Nelson, a senior biomedical science major, has appreciated the racial diversity he’s experienced at Union. He noted that his “friend group has expanded to include all sorts of people from different cultures,” and that each culture “has helped change the way he sees the world in a positive way.”
AJ Valcin, a senior communications major commented, “since [I] started attending Union in 2011 I have seen a significant increase in racial diversity.” He, similarly to Nelson, felt that “the growing diversity just makes the cultural experience at [Union] that much richer.”
When asked about areas in which diversity lacks, or could improve, both students spoke about diversity in faith.
Valcin weighed in, saying that Union’s exclusivity in belief can sometimes be related to students’ lack of effort to “break out of their circles and cliques … reaching out to those needing a friend,” adding that “[these issues] are a lot bigger than they seem, and a solution starts from within the individual.”
Both students agreed that having a nominally Adventist campus indicates uniformity in church affiliation, but both expressed interest in seeing a more diverse faith-community develop on campus.
“I guess I don’t really feel like we’ve arrived yet,” Dr. Linda Becker responded when discussing Union’s rankings in racial diversity. Becker shared that she feels Union’s racial diversity is related to the fact that we belong to a worldwide church and the composition of the U.S. itself is becoming more racially diverse. Becker sees Union’s diversity as “part of [students’] education, and that the more diversity students can experience here, the better prepared students are going to be for the world they’re going to live in.”
She also described Union as a learning space for students of various backgrounds, where we can “think deeper, and … understand some of our suppositions and biases.”
When asked about what other types of diversity are present on campus, Becker highlighted socioeconomic status. She feels that “socioeconomic status probably affects the way we view life as much as our ethnicity … because there is sometimes more shame associated with it.” This type of diversity is important because “it’s just something that we all need to really be aware of,” shared Becker. According to her, there are many students who come to Union despite financial difficulty.
While next year’s report could indicate improved statistics for Union, students can begin taking action now to achieve true diversity. True diversity may come from creating a safe learning environment. Other students may need to be more aware of other backgrounds and cultures. Regardless of the end result, culture and communities only grow when we choose to bring awareness and learn from the diversity around us.
Setheesh is a sophomore mathematics and religious education major.