Diversity in Friend Groups on Campus

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Mount Holyoke is a big, beautiful, and diverse campus with a relatively large international student body and a myriad faculty (a fact that has been called to question in more recent times). Along with embodying a very inclusive culture, the fact that Mount Holyoke is a historically women’s college results in it drawing especially liberal, open-minded, and politically “woke” students. Is there still racism on campus? While the answer to that question is contentious, I would argue that most people are careful not to be outwardly racist on our campus in comparison to some other university campuses. That said, are there still racial groupings? Absolutely. The question is: does it matter?

You don’t have to be on campus for too long in order to make the observation that friend groups tend to be at first glance homogeneous in nature; in fact, all you need to do is visit SuperBlanch during its busiest hours to see this. South Asians tend hang out with other South Asians, East Asians with East Asians, Latinxs with Latinxs, Black people with other Black people, Americans with Americans, and so forth (of course, many people belong to more than one of these limited categories). That is not to say that there are no exceptions: there are, in fact, several exceptions-- but rarely do these exceptions move past individual friendships to medium or larger-sized friend groups. Now, it could be argued that it is completely normal for people who have a lot in common to relate well to one another and hang out with one another: after all, that is a stereotype that has been squeezed dry by every high school movie in existence. The art kids hang out with the art kids, the emos with the emos, and the popular crowd with other popular people, and so it goes. The difference is that in high school your social identity was formed taking into account your interests and your general attitude towards life, whereas in college it seems that your social identity that takes precedence is in the form of your cultural and religious beliefs, often accompanied by the color of your skin.

Part of the reason why this grouping tends to happen could be that Mount Holyoke is very diverse. There are several countries that are well-enough represented to make it easy for people from or who live in the same country to sink into the comfort of their own people. Since the foundation for many friendships is formed within the first year at college, the chances of you making friends with people from the same general region are enhanced, given that often in your first year away from home is when you generally miss it the most, and so may search for something or someone that could connect you to it. Given this, it isn’t much of a surprise that people end up making friends with those who are culturally more similar to them, even though it is possible that they may not have made friends with those same people had they met back in their home country or country of origin.

That said, a friend group that is perceived to be or that may outwardly seem homogenous may not really be so at all. For example, in my circle of “brown friends” there is a Hindu Indian, an Indian from Kenya, a Muslim Pakistani, a Muslim Bangladeshi, and a Hindu Nepali. Similarly, a “black” group of friends or a “white” group of friends may share a similar dynamic. In other words, no matter who you are hanging out with and no matter what color their skin is or how culturally similar they are to you and your own country, you will likely still be able to learn a lot from them. That said, there is still a physical and cultural string that is connecting the both of you and would you learn even more if you stretched this string further? I certainly believe so.

At the end of the day, humans are more similar to each other than their perceived differences, and ideally those similarities should be represented in mixed friend groups. Arguably, I think the only main thing keeping people of different colors and regions from readily mixing with each other is a mutual shyness and negative attitudes or stereotypes towards other races, ethnicities, and cultures. Additionally, a huge part of the liberal arts experience in America is being introduced to an array of different cultures and personalities-- and by refraining from doing so, one misses out on a huge part of their educational experience; that said, I do not think it is something that needs to be forced. It is not a requisite to tick off a checklist of “foreign” friends, the only compulsion is to treat everyone with equal respect and judge their personalities according to their personalities, after trying to get to know them-- and not on the basis of something they cannot change such as their culture, race, religion, or nationality.

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