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Teach Your College Student to Embrace Diversity

November 11, 2013

By Jessica Vician 

Teach Your College Student to Embrace Diversity

Racial and ethnic diversity is a great strength of American colleges and universities, as young adults are exposed to people from many different backgrounds and learn about other cultures. They will take these lessons with them through school and careers all the way into retirement. However, for some teens, this instant exposure to people from different backgrounds can create a culture clash. 

I grew up in a moderate-sized Indiana town about an hour from Chicago. Despite its close proximity to a large city, my elementary and high schools did not have much diversity, nor did we have a lot of people move to our town from outside the Midwest. 

When I went to college at a large state school, I met a lot of students from another part of the country who happened to associate with a different religion from the one I was raised. I found that many of those students stuck out from the other Midwesterners because they were rude, loud, and unfriendly toward others. At the time, my friends and I associated that behavior with their religion and I failed to realize that my perception of their behavior was merely a culture clash between two very different geographic regions of the United States.

We blamed these students’ religion for their behavior, failing to realize that first, their religion did not make them behave negatively; and second, their behavior wasn’t necessarily rude—they just didn’t express themselves the same way we did. We inappropriately judged a group of people because they acted differently from us. 

I am sharing this story not because I am proud of it—instead I’m terribly ashamed—but so you can learn from my mistake and take the opportunity to teach your teen not only tolerance but to embrace other cultures. When your child returns from school for the Thanksgiving holiday, talk about how he or she is coping with culture clash.

Here are a few talking points:

  • Ask your teen about the different students he or she has met. Where are they from, and what differences have your teen noticed? If your teen seems to dislike certain groups, ask why and try to give him or her a greater perspective about that group or culture. For example, people raised in cities might behave differently than people raised in small towns.
  • If your teen has met someone from a different country, encourage him or her to ask questions about the country’s political system, culture, food, etc. It’s a great opportunity to learn!
  • Remind your teen that exposure to diversity prepares him or her for a future job. Today it’s more common to work for international companies that have their own work ethic and customs. 
  • Talk to your teen about his or her perspective on other cultures. Encouraging a greater perspective fosters self-knowledge, which will help your teen make informed decisions about professional and academic issues.
  • If your teen is part of a minority in college, he or she might feel like an outsider. Suggest that he or she use this cultural distinction as a chance to educate others and engage in discussions about diversity. Part of the college adventure is being exposed to different ideas and ways of life in classrooms, dorms, cafeterias, and in general campus life activities.

Encourage your teen to use the university experience not only to obtain academic knowledge, but also to hone social and cultural skills. Remind him or her that college offers a unique chance to connect with both people with similar mindsets and with those from different backgrounds.

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