IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Learning through experience: one student’s philosophy of diversity in action
As I plodded through puddles of China rain, thankful for the umbrella I packed for my trip, I contemplated the lesson I planned to teach my young students that afternoon. Upon entering the classroom, thunderous chatter echoed into sheer silence. My students sat still until I closed my umbrella, when their heads slowly swiveled to face the back of the room where a pool of open umbrellas rested. Perfect.
On Friday, July 13, 2007, I was one week into a monthlong journey of teaching English in Zhengzhou, China. I decided to use the day’s date to segue into a short unit on superstitions and went on to explain various beliefs and rituals that exist in the United States. “For example, some people think that opening an umbrella indoors will bring bad luck,” I told them. Suddenly, my students bolted out of their chairs and raced to close their umbrellas.
Although the course took aim at the English language, we all valued the opportunities to exchange cultural ideas and insight. Often straying from the mechanics of grammar and the mandatory vocabulary, I remember most the connections we made on a more genuine level. And while the experience occurred abroad, I carry it with me everywhere—especially within my own community.
As the 2009 Diversity and Inclusion Summit nears, the occasion once again vitalizes our sense of diversity on campus. However, it’s neither a starting point nor an ending point for our community, but rather an opportunity to further reflect on how diversity has impacted us personally and how it will continue to over time. The summit is not just an excuse to address these concerns; it supplements our ongoing thinking and reminds us why constant dialogue is so critical to understanding. As such, this year’s theme asks: “What’s in it for me?”
As a student journalist, I’m constantly reminded of the desire for information that is so innately human. Through the exchange of this information, we foster connections that allow more revelations. So many different stories and perspectives exist, and being aware of them can help enhance our impression of our world. Much like having a passport, journalists have the ability to meet new people, venture to new places, and learn new things. Some of my most compelling reporting experiences offered me glimpses into lives unlike my own, such as that of a 15-year-old Argentinean Salsa dancer or a CU student who converted to Islam. Striving to capture these accounts keeps me thrilled about my future career.
However, as the news business evolves—and becomes much more interactive—so does our understanding of diversity. It’s no longer enough to read a text or attend a lecture in hopes of grasping the essence of the concept itself. We must live it in order to learn it, and what better place than a university campus to enable this experience.
Several groups on campus have enlightened my own understanding of diversity. As part of the CU-Boulder Journalism Diversity Scholars program, I frequently interact with peers who come from all types of backgrounds and share a similar passion for journalism. At first, I possessed no clear idea of what to expect from this program beyond the scripted lines, such as “achieving diversity and excellence.” Now I realize the power of a strong community, with unique minds capable of enriching the collective experience for everyone. We learn from each other. We challenge each other. We support each other. And the group’s identity has shaped our individual identities.
Experiences like this prove that diversity isn’t just about numbers. It’s impossible to quantify the effects of a network with this much determination and diversity—whether it’s cultural, ethnic, academic, etc. These communities, composed of many incredible and unique students, make life at CU much more interesting, informative, and fulfilling.
As the theme of this year’s Diversity and Inclusion summit suggests, it’s important to reflect on our own encounters with and definitions of diversity, which are likely always changing. And in the age of global citizenry, inclusion is more than a mere obligation. An integrated setting cultivates all types of knowledge, allowing those present to thrive. And thus, I want to be present.
While I enjoyed seeing the historic places and traveling throughout China, engaging with the country’s people stimulated my mind in a way that I never would have imagined. In particular, I wanted to learn as much from my young students as they wanted to learn from me. In response to my teachings on that Friday the 13th, they revealed some common Chinese superstitions, including the act of sweeping all floor residue out the door in an effort to rid of misfortune (but never on the Chinese New Year!). Later that afternoon we danced around the classroom with brooms until the floor appeared spotless.
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