For many incoming students, freshman year will be one of firsts: first time living away from home, first time having a roommate, first time being truly challenged academically or socially and first time being surrounded on a regular basis by people who may not look or think like you.

Even coming from a relatively large city (relatively large for Wisconsin at least) my high school graduating class clocked in at about 98% white, middle class people. Needless to say, neither my high school nor my community, were teeming over with diversity.

This is not unlike the background of many students at the University of Wisconsin. In fact I’m positive there are many people who come from towns with even less of a minority population and less of an array of opinions, beliefs and opportunities.

Experts say ‘diversity,’ ‘inclusion’ mean nothing when comes to real social changeDiversity. Equality. Allies. Inclusion. These are some of the buzzwords Brittany Packnett, vice president of national community alliances for Teach Read…

Embracing and engaging with diversity for the first time is a difficult. While everyone wants to believe they would willingly relinquish their preconceived notions, it is incredibly difficult to accept and understand new ideas or people as a person who is alone in a new city surrounded by people whose names you barely know, and may never actually remember.

Reverting back to your roots, whether good or bad, is a natural instinct and plays a large factor in how the next four years of your life will develop. But, working your way through freshman year, as well as the rest of the college experience, it is up to each individual to make the conscious choice to either embrace the diversity of ideas and people on campus, or to stubbornly stick to their preexisting ideas about the way the world should work.

Embracing diversity is one of very few decisions which will constantly and consistently enrich your time at UW. People coming from different backgrounds will push you to look at the most mundane things, whether it’s buying a gallon of milk to walking down the street at night, in ways that will change how you understand yourself and your influence on others.

Taking an East Asian studies class or a religious studies class or samba dancing will push you to understand that ideas, activities and concepts are fluid, unique to each individual, but are meant to be shared and discussed in an open environment like the one found at UW.

UW expands diversity initiative to reach all SOAR studentsUniversity of Wisconsin Dean of Students Lori Berquam outlined plans to expand the Our Wisconsin diversity training program to include Read…

So maybe skip a frat party one Friday night, and check out a First Wave performance; I guarantee you’ll be way more entertained by their artistry than you would be listening to some EDM mix of a song that shouldn’t have that much bass to begin with. Instead of blindly accepting the rhetoric surrounding a certain religion or belief, seek out people who are familiar with it and ask them to tell you their two cents, because I can almost guarantee it’s worth more than what you’re used to hearing.

Make the extra effort to find people, clubs and classes that expand your understanding of where and how you live, and I can promise you will find that, at the end of your four years, UW was made all the more wonderful because of it.

Aly Niehans ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in international studies and intending to major in journalism.