I can still vividly recall my first tour of UR during a late February snowfall, passing by Wilson Commons and hearing about how I.M. Pei designed the glass windows surrounding Hirst Lounge. I remember marveling at the colorful display of flags hanging from the ceiling and feeling a sense of excitement about the rich diversity present at this school.

The meridian that gave my tour, as well as many other students and admissions personnel that I encountered throughout the day, applauded the University for being such a culturally and academically diverse institution. That was certainly one of the driving forces that propelled me to mail in my $500 deposit and agree to come here for my undergraduate education.

Now let’s fast forward six months to the last week in August, the much-anticipated Freshman Orientation week. I can still taste the combination of anxiety and eagerness I felt within me as I milled through the large sea of foreign faces, trying to find people I could relate to and with whom I could hold a conversation. With every new person I met, the first conversation was the quintessential awkward one. Both of us would ask each other where we were from, what our prospective majors were, what we thought about the campus and so forth. But it started to become apparent that the answers I was receiving to these lackluster questions were the same in every encounter. Every student was pre-med or a political science major in the making, taking the same introductory biology, chemistry or political science classes. Every student was either from upstate New York, Westchester County or Long Island, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania or New Jersey. It was at this point that I began to question the extent to which diversity was present at this institution.

It saddens me that the majority of people I meet have constricted themselves into their own microcosm. Seize the opportunity to take a random Japanese class, a history of Jazz class or even an American Sign Language class. The Rochester curriculum is built to expand every student’s horizons, and I think we, as a student body, need to exploit the academic flexibility that is at our disposal.

Sometimes, I wonder why I’ve still never met a student from Montana or even Idaho. I wonder why I’ve only met a handful of international students in the six months that I have been at Rochester.

A major facet of the complete college experience is to meet students from all the over world and learn from their divergent lifestyles, beliefs and expectations. Unfortunately, when we are not able to do this, we are being shirked of a life-changing experience. I have attended meetings with the Office of Admissions where they constantly discuss ways to draw in students from the West Coast, the Midwest and the South, rather than just the tri-state area. I feel that we, as an institution, have to work even harder to make this ambition a reality.

UR was undoubtedly my first-choice university and, like many other peers I have spoken to, I fell in love with the school within my first seven days here. But the lack of diversity on campus is indeed a topic of much debate and worry among many students. There is much potential for this debacle to be solved with ample collaboration between the administration and the student body and, although it will take time, the ultimate result will be highly rewarding.

Vankateswaran is a member of the class of 2011.



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