Campus diversity enhances the college experience

Being a Bellevue College student comes with a few perks. A few weeks ago, I took a free, private three-hour introductory lesson on Farsi at BC from a native Persian. That same day, I also attended a $7 crash course on African history and culture with a plate of food from different countries of Africa. Soon, I might learn how to cook authentic Vietnamese food and maybe in a few days I would want to get advice about pursuing medicine from an experienced professional – all for a few dollars or possibly free. These opportunities abound at BC, but they are not on any course catalog or taught by a professor; in fact, they are instructed by my classmates who are more than enthusiastic to share their culture and knowledge.

As a growing college, BC may not have many four-year degrees or marvelous Gothic architecture, but its diverse community definitely rivals that of other more established universities. BC’s diversity, however, extends beyond cultural variations. Just in my chemistry class, I have classmates who have backgrounds that I would have never guessed. Some were licensed pharmacists in Vietnam. A few already had degrees in engineering or the humanities, but decided to embark on a path towards medical school. Others are mothers or fathers who want to go into teaching or become engineers. There is no question that BC students come from a variety of interesting backgrounds.

This kind of diversity is an attractive quality for any school. On any college website, one will find an entire page on cultural diversity at that institution, with weirdly precise numbers of how their student population is comprised. It’s an important aspect to any college because it fosters open-mindedness and learning.

However, in my opinion, having students that engage in that diversity is just as or even more important than having a colorful population.

Being a diverse institution is only effective if its members also engage in that diversity. At Bellevue College, there are numerous events every month – most of which are free – hosted by many student organizations. One would assume these opportunities are packed with community members who are interested in another culture. However, there are often only a few dozen people who participate and these same members also show up at other college events. There are thousands of students that attend BC daily, so it’s extremely disappointing when the most an event can rile up are a few hundred.

This kind of issue probably stems from the fact that BC is a commuter school. That kind of environment allows students to have full-time jobs or other obligations to fill throughout the day. However, as BC strives to become a bigger college with more academic opportunities, it’s very important for its community to also be engaged in that growth and their fellow students. It’s not enough for BC to call itself a diverse institution if less than 10 percent of its entire student population participates in the expansive culture.

As a community, we need to be more active in learning about our fellow classmates. There is an incredible amount of knowledge in each member of the BC community and it’s unbelievable when it is not utilized. Moreover, this issue is not exclusive to Bellevue College.

When there is a wealth of diversity at a college, it’s hard to find an equal amount of engagement. A few universities such as the University of California Berkeley have interesting ways of combating this issue. UCB has a DeCal program, where students can take courses that have been designed and are taught by other students. These classes can cover anything from women’s wrestling to a new language. These courses have to first be approved by a department chair and be sponsored by a faculty member. On transcripts, the course instructor will be the faculty sponsor, but only the student will be leading the entire class.

This kind of program gives students the opportunity to teach their culture or share their knowledge on almost anything, from gaming to hip-hop infused tap dancing. In addition, it also gives other students the incentive to take the course by giving them an additional credit for their graduation requirement.

I don’t see BC adopting such a program, but it’s important to know that there are solutions to the lack of engagement in the community. In addition, I don’t see BC continuing to be a commuter school. With student housing coming soon and more four-year degree programs, BC needs to begin fostering a more engaging community. At a college, education shouldn’t be limited to classrooms. Learning can happen across the campus and it can begin by simply talking to one’s classmate.