10 Girls Get Real About: Diversity

This is the first in an ongoing series in which we talk to girls — real girls with strong opinions and big ideas — about what’s going on in the world. This story was originally published in Clover Letter, a daily newsletter for girls.

Growing up, most of the schools I went to were predominately white. I was always known as the only black girl when it came to elementary school and middle school. I felt alone and very insecure when it came to my natural hair and skin color. When I started high school at a really incredibly diverse place, I was in awe. It was like a whole new world I had missed out on, and now I was getting my first glimpse of the world. Being surrounded by so much diversity now, I feel so confident in who I am. Everyone is different and diversity gives so much knowledge of culture and religion and it’s so important that people see that. Being in a diverse environment allowed for me to enter a world of reality and I did not feel alone anymore. Now that I go to NYU, I get along with so many people. We connect in so many ways, despite coming from different cultures and backgrounds, which I think is incredible. — Ileri J., 18

As someone who grew up in a very cute, yet very Caucasian Ohio town, diversity means the world to me. I spent my entire life (18 years!) in that very town, but my parents were both born in Iran. So as I grew up, it was difficult to find others like me, since most of the girls around me were blond, blue-eyed, and played lacrosse. There weren’t many people I could talk to about being second generation, or being Middle Eastern post-9/11, or even just about tips on how to tame giant, curly hair. Now that I’m studying at a university, being around so many different kinds of people all the time is, though overwhelming at first, the best possible thing for me. Standing out in my hometown always felt like a crime, but in places like a college campus, it’s almost encouraged. Seeing diversity is like a promise that it’s okay to look different, to dress different, and to be different. I’m very proud that the university I attend has so many international students as well as dozens of unique programs and opportunities to encourage inclusion and diversity.
 — Donna P., 18

Diversity is something I’ve always been really aware of. I’m black, and when I was in elementary school, I went to a predominantly black school. Then as I got older, I found myself attracted to more mainstream culture, music, television, etc. And I was bullied all of my 6th grade year for being the “white girl.” Back then, I didn’t understand that what I chose to wear and watch and how I spoke was indicative of a race until someone told me so. I ended up having to move into a predominantly white school, and most of the kids came from affluent families. A lot of my interests lined up better with my peers, but I still always felt “other,” especially when we all started noticing each other romantically. In both of these schools, I never really felt a part of either group. There wasn’t diversity, and for me, who didn’t seem to fit fully into either group, it just wasn’t great. Now I’m a senior in high school, and I go to a school that’s about a 70% white 30% black mix. There’s a lot more Asians and Hispanics too. And I’ve found that here it’s a lot easier to blend, because there are more places to blend into. I’ve met kids who felt like me, looking one way but identifying with another culture (and not in an appropriation kind of way). I don’t think it’s gotten easier, but I think diversity has begun to help me accept myself and all of the harsh words I was dealt all those years ago. I think diversity allows us to open our eyes to something bigger than ourselves, and even bigger than black and white. — Dymond M., 18

Being Southeast Asian, I always noticed the media, especially internationally, never included Asians like me. I never thought it affected me that much when I was younger, but as I grew to be more aware of the lack of inclusion, I realized how important inclusion would have been to me. As a kid, I always felt that being blonde and fair-skinned was the only way to be beautiful. Now I realize that more diversity of TV shows to include Asian women could really have boosted my self esteem and helped me as a kid. — Nicole S., 16

Diversity and representation are so incredibly important (and rare!) in entertainment — books, movies, TV shows, you name it. Everyone should see themselves represented within a story. Representation is not “This is a movie about being gay, so our lead is gay.” Representation is “This movie is about a vampire who kills dragons, oh, and by the way, he’s gay! How cool!” Diversity is not hard to include. It shouldn’t be “hard to include,” since diversity is literally inclusion. Little boys and girls need to see themselves on every screen, in every book. They need to have characters that they can say “he or she is just like me!” Because after all, if a story isn’t diverse, then is the story an accurate portrayal of our world? — Lizzie K., 16

Diversity is a beautiful thing that should be celebrated, yet it is often overlooked in lieu of other criteria, and sometimes even leads to prejudice. As the vice president of a South Asian Culture Club, I work to bring awareness to students about the beauty of different cultures. While many people are aiming for more diversity, we obviously still have a long way to go. Diversity, to me, means embracing our differences, because they are what make us special. If everyone was the same, then our world would be really boring. As a society, especially as young people, we have a lot of preconceived notions about what beauty is, but what really makes us beautiful is that we all have individual traits the make us special. By making our society more diverse and taking measures to learn from all kinds of people, we will expand our horizons. I also think that we need to make pop culture more diverse by giving actresses and actors of different ethnicities leading roles in films, by writing books and scripts with diverse casts — and super importantly — not putting down different genders and races in our music. — Soumya J., 14

This year especially, I think diversity and inclusion looks like a complete and total willingness to understand what somebody else is about — it’s the act of acknowledging that no, we may not (or certainly can’t!) understand everything a new friend is going through, or relate to the depths of where they’ve come from. But it’s also about being bold enough to lean in and invest in the absorption of a new perspective, and respecting others for having one.”— Madison S., 22

I feel like often when schools refer to their “diversity,” they’re talking about the demographics of the student body, typically in terms of race. Demographic balance has an impact on how you situate and view yourself in the world going forward. For example, a lack of that kind of diversity can lead to feelings of isolation as a member of a minority group or of rightful dominance as a member of a majority group. But that being said, I think that diversity in school curriculum is just as important as diversity in the student body, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. (Gender and racial diversity in STEM fields is obviously an ongoing issue, but not necessarily one affected by a specific curriculum.) When a student of a minority group sits in a history class and learns about all the “Great (White) Men” of each era and is prescribed to read the canon (which can vary slightly, but is always largely, if not entirely, written by white, male authors), they internalize a past in which people of varying identities (like their own) were apparently not present. However, when authors and historical figures of all different genders, races, cultures, and sexualities are taught as a part of “essential education,” that also teaches the student what people like them have previously done and accomplished and therefore shows that successes and accomplishments of people in minority groups is frequent and attainable rather than the exception to the rule of white, male, heteronormative dominance. — Caroline M., 18

As a Latina, diversity is super important to me. I went to a magnet school for elementary and high school and my university actually just won an award for diversity and inclusion, so needless to say, I’ve always been surrounded by people of many different races. I’m really glad to have had that experience because it’s so much more noticeable to me when I’m in a space with people of one specific demographic (especially when it’s not the same as mine). I’m also more aware of the types of people who have access to the same opportunities that I, as a first generation college student, do. I’m working on a Gender and Women’s Studies minor, so I spend a great deal of time discussing race and gender in an academic setting. I’ve recently realized how lucky I am to attend a diverse university in a metropolitan area. So many colleges are comprised mostly of white students. They, of course, offer classes about gender and race, but it pains me to imagine a room full of white people and maybe a few people of color talking about the bodies and experiences of minorities, even if the conversations bear no racist ideologies. — Sarai G., 20

Diversity is something that I’m grateful for. Not enough people are exposed to it, and it makes a difference to know and experience it for yourself. I am very fortunate enough to live in a city — Los Angeles — where it’s so diverse that you can experience many different cultures at once. I’ve been to different cities and states where my culture was never prominent. (I’m Filipino.) I think a lot of the time people are scared of other cultures or ethnicities because they just aren’t used to it. They have never been exposed to it. There are times where I’ve been stared at because I “looked” different than the majority of the people. Sometimes, I was treated unfairly because of the way I looked. I totally understand why and where it comes from, so I don’t have hard feelings. But the world should not be like this, and people should not act a certain way towards a person of another ethnicity. — Tiffany V., 19