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Photo Credit: Randall Nagy http://soft9000.com/blog9000/index.php?m=05&y=14&d=25&entry=entry140525-002206

I shouldn’t need to reiterate the importance of being friends with people who aren’t like you. I shouldn’t need to impress upon the student body the necessity of diversity: in socioeconomic status, appearance, gender, and interests.

Yet, it seems I must.

The other day, I saw a group of ten kids going out to dinner at a restaurant on Witherspoon Street. As they were seated, I looked around the table to see if I knew anyone. I didn’t; but, moreover, I was sad to see that every single person sitting at the table seemed to be of a similar cultural background. It was as if they had moved in a platoon of homogeneity. 

The homogeneity of friend groups on this campus stems not only from cultural student associations or non-inclusive organizations but also from our failure to recognize that we have enveloped ourselves with people who share similar thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. We long to associate with people who share our views, who grew up with similar lifestyles, who listen to the same music, etc. Too often, we jump to the most comfortable option, and I mean this in every way: going out with the same group of friends, coordinating meals with the same friend who you love eating with, joining clubs or chasing internships because your friends or everyone else is doing them. We cling to the familiar because we seem to be afraid of being uncomfortable.

I merely mean to point out the idea that we have a habit of taking the easy way out, and that seems unacceptable if we ended up here by taking the more challenging way. We need to jettison the herd mentality we’ve developed and shift toward an intentional focus on diversifying those around people we keep around us. A culturally similar friend group is easy. It’s easy to befriend people who are from the same country, who observe the same religion, and who have the same appearance as you. That friend group is almost always an accessible option.

What’s real bravery is stepping out of your comfort zone and becoming friends with people who disagree with you. Real bravery is being a conservative that dines with liberals and discussing stances on fiscal policy. Real bravery is being a Muslim and bringing Christian friends to the mosque, even if they may not understand the culture or religion. Real bravery is being an athlete and hanging out with people even if they’re NARPs (Non-Athletic Regular Persons). Real bravery is doing what’s harder in the present in the pursuit of a broader way of thought that’s better for the future.

Disheartened at the lack of differences, I’ve decided to make an active effort to expand my friend group with people of differing backgrounds – people that I would not have the opportunity to talk to were it not for Princeton. I can surely understand the desire to make friends with the same background because they can relate to personal experience, but an entire friend group based around a cultural association is simply irrational – a gross squandering of opportunity. 

Groups can be united by culture but, at the same time, become secluded from the rest of our campus community by this very culture because they fail to open up to others that don’t share in this culture. I think the point of being at such a diverse school is to immerse yourself in our collective differences – go to Chabad to learn from our Jewish community, send in a question to Manna Christian Society to learn about the Old and New Testaments, go to Hindu Satsangam to learn about polytheism. Just do something different.

The solution isn’t a hard one. I’m not proposing that students tell their friends they can’t talk to them anymore “in favor of diversity.” I’m merely suggesting that we try and keep friend groups open and varied. I think we fail to benefit from the incredible diversity of Princeton. If we come here and associate with the same group of people that we did at home, there doesn’t really seem to be a reason to come to Princeton. It’s a waste of the resources and the diversity of talent that envelops you.

I don’t think it’s enough to blame the “Orange Bubble” for our problems. It starts and ends with our individual aversion to heterogeneity. The University makes a stronger push toward diversity every year. The Class of 2023’s admission statistics look like this: 56% are self-identified people of color, 26% come from lower-income backgrounds, and 18% are first-gen college students. Yet, our friend groups see 0% change from the people we’re predisposed to associating with anyway. There’s probably a good reason for an increasing push toward diversifying Princeton – maybe you should go find out.

Jasman Singh is a first-year from East Windsor, New Jersey. He can be reached at jasmans@princeton.edu. 

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