Diversity on Campus: Theory v Reality

One of the reasons that we are investigating the campus as an entrepreneurial environment is that in its most ideal form there is huge diversity on campus (i.e., age, race, field of study, nationality, political viewpoints, personal preferences, socio-economic background, etc). This diversity is believed to bring many advantages.

The social and economic benefits of diversity are discussed at length in Richard Florida’s writings and others – I am partial to Jane Jacobs’ ideas in The Economy of Cities.

WSJ writer Hannah Karp’s story, From Bloomingdales to Bloomington, tells of a new diversity at Indiana University’s main Bloomington campus where a large influx of students from the Northeast is changing life on campus. From the story:

In Indiana University’s Assembly Hall last Friday, a remarkably large chorus hailing from private high schools in the Northeast was singing the school’s ode to the “Cream and Crimson” in a pronounced New York accent.

It’s a striking byproduct of one of the most competitive college admissions sessions ever — an influx of East Coast prep-school students in Indiana. Indiana University welcomed about 260 students from the greater New York City area to the limestone lecture halls on its lush, leafy campus last week, up 12.5% from last year. Another 175 came from New Jersey, up 25% from 2007, and 50 hail from Connecticut. While the numbers of students matriculating from in-state and other parts of the country are steadily increasing as well — the school had some 500 more students accept admission offers than it had planned for — the last three years have been marked by unprecedented growth from the Northeast.

The droves of East Coast students descending on Bloomington are ruffling some feathers among the 61% of students who call Indiana home.

Upperclassmen say the tension begins to build from day one of freshman year, as most East Coasters request to live in the same cluster of dorms and send in housing deposits to guarantee their spots long before committing to the school. Jess Berne, a freshman from New York’s suburban Westchester County who had also applied to Penn State and the University of Wisconsin, sent in her housing deposit to Indiana as soon as she was admitted in October, at the school’s recommendation, eight months before she decided to actually enroll. She also requested to room with a fellow New Yorker, Becky Davies, whom she met on Facebook.

The story is interesting/funny (a father of a NY student thinks something is not quite right in Bloomington because people are so friendly) and anecdotal, but leads one to wonder whether diversity works ‘positively’ with open, accepting minds leading the way new understanding and ideas? Or does diversity work because of ‘friction’ and new outputs that are the result of worlds colliding?

Are these ‘new immigrants’ to Bloomington having the same effect on campus as Eastern Europeans or Latin Americans have on US cities when they arrive in large numbers? Any thoughts?

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