Editor’s View: Finding Diversity in Surprising Places

Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 2:23 am | By Erin Sindewald ’08

 

When I applied to Grinnell, my admission essay opened with the line, “I am a 17-year-old, Caucasian, upper-middle-class suburbanite from a public school.” I knew that colleges were looking for a “diverse” student body, and I was well aware that my diversity credentials weren’t very impressive. In order to combat my statistical shortcomings, I tried to poke fun at my seemingly non-diverse self by mentioning some of the “Erin-esque” qualities characterizing me — qualities such as rarely leaving the house without saturating all exposed areas of my body with sunscreen (even in the winter) and my goal to one day pet a cow. The theme of my essay was that although I sound like everyone else on paper, in reality I have enough idiosyncrasies to make me (hopefully) stand out from the huge pile of applicants vying for admission at Grinnell.

Looking back at my essay three and a half years later, I am a tad embarrassed by the clichéd nature of my claims. Yet, when I arrived at Grinnell, I realized that at least my cliché was apt. The Grinnell website provides the following information about the class of 2010: 51 percent are female, 19 percent are students of color, 8 percent are international, 74 percent are from public schools, and 11 percent are first-generation college students. But Grinnellians are also peculiar, eccentric, quirky, and diverse in ways that do not fit into neat and tidy categories.

For example, one of the first times I ever took a shower at the Physical Education Complex (or the PEC, as it is fondly known), I felt nervous about being naked in front of strangers. This nervousness subsided when the student showering next to me suddenly turned to me and said, “Whoa … You have the smallest wrists I’ve ever seen! Can I touch one?”

Well, it certainly wasn’t the question I was expecting from a stranger in the shower, but she seemed friendly enough, so I obliged. I guess you can say my wrists added “diversity” to the shower that day. It was something small, both figuratively and literally, but it felt good to have something characteristically me.

Another time a friend teased me about the nasalized vowels of my “Chicago accent.” I have an accent? I thought. I never knew! Everyone from my suburb called their mothers “Mahhhm.” But here, that wasn’t the case.

Similar stories exist for many Grinnell students. Not until we were all thrown together in small-town Iowa, originating in countless different places, did we notice our own eccentricities that seem so peculiar to others. Aspects of our personalities, our speech patterns, and our interests that fit the norm at home were “different” at Grinnell. Thus Grinnell is filled with lots of strange and “diverse” people. We’ve got small wrists. We’ve got large wrists. We’ve got accents. We’ve got people who claim they have no accent (but they probably do). We’ve got people who say pop. People who say soda. People who say Coke. We’ve got drinkers. Non-drinkers. We’ve got whistlers. Tree climbers. Streakers. People who prefer to remain clothed in public. I’ve met people who enjoy the Beach Boys as much as I do (and many who do not). There are those who shower twice a day, those who shower twice a week, those who shower when they get the chance (which isn’t that often). We’ve got chefs, photographers, athletes, cat lovers, and pumpkin carvers. We’ve got those who have intense crushes on the collective childhood cast of the Harry Potter movies, and those who defiantly refuse to even pick up a Harry Potter book. We’ve got a little bit of a lot of things.

It’s true that in any community there are ways to pick out differences that make each person unique. But never have I been part of a community with quite the large array of characteristics that not only make each member unique, but also that make the entire community better. I am surrounded by 1,500 other students whose joint-diversity transcends easy categories — whose idiosyncrasies cannot be reduced to a pie chart and sent out in an admission brochure. I agree that socioeconomic/racial/etc. diversity is important to any environment, especially in the intellectual haven of academe. But it’s also important to know that Grinnell is a fab place for the discovery and appreciation of all types of difference. Even if it’s only the size of your wrists or the way you say “sahh-sage.”

Erin Sindewald '08 is an English major from Orland Park, Illinois.