Second Year Vibes: Embracing Differences

embracing
Illustration by Nicole Freewalt

Anna-Catherine Kueng ~ Assistant Editor 

     In schools across the U.S., the idea of tolerance for everybody is promoted. Examples of this include: not judging a friend because she is a Morman or not treating the foreign exchange student as if he is an exhibit on display. 

     However, if you Google ‘tolerance,’ you will see that its definition, according to Merriam-Webster, is “allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.” In my opinion, tolerating something or someone is one of the least things you can do. 

     You can tolerate the foreign exchange student by not making fun of his accent, but if you never take the time to know him, are you really making a difference? You can tolerate someone of a different religion by not making fun of her beliefs, but if you never take the time to understand why she has a certain faith or you pretend as if it does not exist, what message are you sending? 

     So often in college, students are told to embrace diversity, but a lot of times, it seems like rather than embracing it, students just pretend as if it does not exist. 

     In my opinion, most people are not afraid to talk about their differences if they are asked about them. I am not saying you should walk up to someone whose first language is not English and ignorantly say, “Wow, your English is awful. Where are you from?” But, it would not hurt to form relationships and get to know classmates who did not grow up in the same way, or even in the same country, as you did.  

     For example, when I was seventeen, I became close friends with two girls from Ethiopia. When they first started coming to my church, I wanted to be friendly to them, but I was nervous. What could I talk about that did not ooze that I am American? What could I, a girl who has never been out of the U.S., possibly have in common with girls that grew up in Africa? Additionally, I did not even know how to properly pronounce their names. 

     But, despite my nervousness, I introduced myself, and after one game of playing checkers with them, I knew we were going to become friends. As I got to know them, I learned so much about Ethiopian culture and what the girls’ lives were like before being adopted. Even though we did not have similar life experiences, we were still able to laugh, talk, and enjoy each other’s company. I taught them things about America and they taught me things about Ethiopia, and in doing so, I realized that everyone, regardless of differences, just wants to feel like they are loved, understood, and heard. 

     I know it can be easy to sit back and only want to be friends with people who are just like you. Like many people, I am guilty of doing that, but that is not the best way to live. You never know what you will learn by getting to know people who grew up, think, and live differently than you do. As Maya Angelou says, “In diversity, there is beauty and there is strength.” 

     So, this week, I challenge you to not just tolerate differences, but to practice respect and to  embrace our University’s values of diversity and inclusion.