At the beginning of this semester, I entered a Monday class early to find several students sporadically placed around the 50-seat room. The class was “diversely” composed of white Americans, Asian-Americans and international students from China, South Korea and India.
When I entered the room the following Wednesday, the class had completely self-segregated, with each nationality sitting together.
The class remained that way for the entire semester.
Though USC boasts the largest international student enrollment in the country with 6,600 students, real diversity relies on students, not administrators. We should embrace the diversity of our campus by intentionally overcoming social barriers.
In my four years here, I have observed this phenomenon in many classrooms and social situations. As far as I could tell, racism played no role in the self-segregation.
Rather, the self-segregation arose from a lack of conversational ease. To relate to international students, Americans must intentionally pursue conversation, asking questions, gaining understanding of culture and finding relatable qualities.
This direct approach often feels uncomfortable and forced — somewhat like a networking event. Perhaps because of our laziness, or our limited conversational abilities, we immediately gravitate toward the easy, familiar faces.
Stanford Professor Anthony Lising Antonio conducted a study at UCLA that suggests self-segregation is not a problem on the Westwood campus. He backed up his argument with student surveys that showed the plurality of “friend groups” had no racial majority.
Newsweek offered a divergent opinion from Antonio, referencing studies that concluded that students self-segregate by third grade in order to develop individual identity and pursue popularity.
Some students would counter Antonio’s conclusion by pointing out the existence of cultural student organizations and racially driven Greek communities.
But these organizations are not necessarily bad. Race and nationality play an important part of identity in America. Few people want to be the minority in a group, whether religious, racial, political, gender or other wise.
Consequently, people congregate around people with identifying characteristics and similar backgrounds, largely because it is easier to relate.
Many religious groups advocate for their idea of the truth. Blacks brace to fight oppression. LGBT groups bond over the belief in individual rights.
Amid all of this, our culture claims to celebrate diversity on the grounds that a multicultural society will give more opportunity to everyone.
USC’s administration strives to promote diversity in the student body to provide us with the greatest possible learning environment. It is our responsibility, however, to actively learn from peers of different cultures, nationalities or religions.
I treasure the things my Indian co-workers have taught me about Bollywood and cricket. I treasure the experiences I had traveling through China with a native Chinese student I met in class.
If groups in the majority intentionally work to create a welcoming environment, allowing minority groups to not feel awkward, we will open our campus culture to greater dissemination of ideas, points of view, cultural experiences and new relationships.
Embracing diversity is important to our personal development, our future in an increasingly globalized world and our general ability to relate to people different than ourselves.
It begins with our awareness of differences. It begins in the classroom by intentionally sitting with people different from ourselves, learning from them and befriending them.
A piece of advice from a graduating senior: Don’t let USC’s wealth of cultural differences go to waste.
Jensen Carlsen is a senior majoring in economics and mathematics. His column “The Bridge” ran Wednesdays.