By Kim Ilkowski
For many students, it seems like the College has it all. With its colonial-styled buildings, extensive curriculum, dedicated sports teams and a variety of clubs and organizations, what could possibly be missing? One student thinks she knows the answer.
“Diversity,” freshman psychology major Cailin Crawford said.
She may be on to something. The College has been in the news recently as the 41st smartest school in the United States and the second smartest in New Jersey, according to Lumosity, a neuroscience research company. The College often makes the cut for other prestigious lists, but it is rarely mentioned when compilations of the most diverse universities are created.
“TCNJ has a lot less diversity than my high school,” Crawford said. “It’s something I’m not accustomed to.”
Serving over 2,000 students from five different districts, it is a known fact that Rancocas Valley High School, which Crawford attended, is a melting pot consisting of kids of all ages, races, ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations.
And the numbers are there. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, almost half of the students at Rancocas Valley are minorities. Compare that to the College’s 34 percent, and it becomes clear why making the transition from high school to college was a noteworthy change for Crawford.
Of the 34 percent of minorities, Hispanic/Latino students make up 10.2 percent, Asians 8.9 percent and Black/African American only 5.6 percent, with the rest comprised of Native Hawaiian, Native American and race/ethnicity unknown students.
“I think the diversity of the students at Rancocas Valley made me a more tolerant and accepting person,” Crawford said. “It made me realize that not everyone is the same or has the same experiences, so I think I definitely benefited from it.”
Since the freshman Welcome Week activities in late August, the College has been pushing the importance of diversity. During an assembly, for example, students attended a show called “Cultural Collision.” Comedian and actor Joe Hernandez-Kolski, who grew up with identity confusion among a mixed Hispanic and Polish upbringing, emceed the multicultural event.
The Welcome Week activity schedule notes that diversity “is something we celebrate here at TCNJ. A core value that drives our mission … an inclusive concept that embraces every member of our TCNJ family.”
Crawford found something odd with its emphasis, though.
“It’s just funny that they have to mention it,” Crawford said. “In high school, we lived in this world of different personalities and people, and (we) never gave thought to the fact that it wasn’t normal for a lot of other teenagers.”
The College is not the only school where students are finding their transition from high school difficult.
Clayton Stoneking, a freshman business major at Richard Stockton College, has also experienced a change in campus culture and perspective.
Stoneking, like Crawford, is a Rancocas Valley alum and is grateful for his experience at the school.
“From what I have heard about other schools, especially private schools, they pretty much contain one demographic,” Stoneking said. “I’m not sure if that sheltered environment is good for any teenager and I would say that my diverse high school years prepared me for the very diverse real world.”
Although he said he is happy at his university, and that he has befriended many kinds people, he has encountered some close-minded people.
“I have met a few students who seem to be homophobic and will not be shy about that opinion,” he said.
Not that it accounts for everyone’s feelings at his college, he clarified, but it was something he was not used to prominently seeing.
The atmosphere for many students at the College seems to be socially stifled, with one key demographic overwhelming the others. Nevertheless, the College has tried to combat this type of close-mindedness from campus through various events and organizations, from PRISM to the mini-paper Diversity University.
Other schools have been more successful in creating an inclusive student body. Kayla Barnes, a half Dominican, half African-American student at Temple University, has had a more diversified experience from her Rancocas Valley alumni.
“Pretty much every race, social class and social group was represented at the school in some way, and in good (numbers),” the freshman psychology major said.
Barnes’s transition to higher education has been a smooth one.
“Because Temple is such a diverse school as well, I’ve moved on to a bigger version of Rancocas Valley,” she said. “Everyone is represented. Blacks, Hispanics, whites, punks, jocks and urban people.”
Ultimately, different schools have different diversity initiatives. But clearly, its presence has an impact on a student’s college experience.
“I love seeing all the different walks of life in school and meeting people whose story is so different from my own,” said Kyrie Farrell, a freshman liberal arts and sciences major at Burlington County Community College
She says her philosophy for a more unified campus consciousness is simple.
“If we can make people look at each other as brother and sister regardless of how different we appear, then there will be … much more unity and acceptance,” Farrell said.