Students should engage diversity at USC


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.

Betsy Avila | Daily Trojan

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.

  • Ras

    It is so lame when people try to symbolically make the appearance that we can mix races in a group. What is that proving? Sanctimonious liberals love to point this out like this is such a tragedy a white guy will not sit next to a black guy, Asian guy, Mexican, etc. WHO CARES??

    I would be just happen if we are no longer shooting each other in this city because someone is a different color and someone thought they were being diss’d.

    Jensen, What color are all your friends – not just the ones you like to be seen with – I mean your actual REAL friends? Right I thought so – thank you for answering your own question why people gravitate towards people they think they are more in common with.

  • unknown_trojan

    Wow. A really nice article in DT. My experience has been the same as the authors’. I am an International student, I used to wonder why people never mixed on campus. I thought “Birds of the same feather, flock together”. This is a problem with LA. You never see USC students mixing with locals. They are always the others.
    In my experience, students do mix when the assignments get tough. All you have to do is say Hi and you can make some friends. I still remember my Korean, Japanese and American friends from my first class at SC.
    Things are usually better at on campus jobs.
    No doubt, Ucla has no self segregation. There are just too many Asians there. Even in the sororities. Not as cute as USC though. Classes are full and ppl usually have no problem talking to each other.
    awestruck, I came to SC to learn, not just make money. Now I am Trojan and can’t wait for the football season to start! Not all students are like what you say.

  • awestruck

    Hey Jensen, I honestly believe that USC culls international students for the sake of upping its prestige. The Ivies used to do this; but they no longer need to do it because the names “Harvard, Yale, Princeton” alone sell themselves.

    Anyways, yeah, a lot of these international students merely see USC as a stepping stone. They don’t see their experience here as a journey, but rather an expedient to get that degree so to make money. And in their countries, degrees from U.S. universities usually hold more weight, and will get you further career-wise. It’s that flat, plain and simple. Sorry, I didn’t mean to disenchant you.

  • Joe

    Hmm… you ADVOCATE for self-segregation and “identity politics” in the form of a black students’ association, gay students’ association, racially-segregated Greek houses, etc… and you wonder why your peers seem to be separating themselves? You can’t have it both ways. Racism (etc) will only go away when all of you banish it from your own worldview.

  • parent

    USC is a microcosim of the real world and the bottom line the lack of trust will inherently group one another with their constituents. This has been going on for hundreds of years if not longer. You are young and lack the worlds day to day expereice to unfortunately grasp this! Give it time you too shall see the world in a more succinct fashion.

  • Zooey

    I applaud the writer’s suggestions and viewpoint. However, given Vice President of Student Affairs, Michael Jackson’s ham-handed message to Muslim students earlier this year; I find it difficult to believe that students who come from Islamic countries would be inclined to reach out to other non-Muslim students at University Park. Perhaps, as the saying goes, “The fish stinks from the head down.”