Writing Effective College Essays Supplemental Essay Video 01 Diversity

Writing Effective College Essays Supplemental Essay Video 01 Diversity

welcome everyone to our video series on the supplemental application essay I’m Michael wiesenfeld English department chair here at Dwight school in New York for this video we’re going to be focusing on perhaps the most common topic when it comes to supplemental essays diversity a school may ask how will you contribute to the diversity of our school that is the most direct form of the question but schools will also ask diversity questions in a number of other ways sometimes not using the term diversity itself for example how if at all are you special in where you are from or how you were raised or in some other way how can your story add to the unique blend of individuals that comprise our learning environment what kind of background or outlook will you bring that can broaden the mindsets and experiences of members of our community or my personal favorite our world is a tapestry what threads will you offer to the fabric of our college life I make no mistake even though these last few examples do not use the term diversity explicitly they are all diversity questions asking you to bring forth some aspect of yourself whether it is who you are or what you’ve experienced that will show them you can contribute to what they value as a diverse learning environment at their college or university there are a number of different ways you can respond to a diversity question the most common is a positive experience with diversity there are two kinds of positive experiences with diversity one you encounter differences in people and grow from the experience and to you encounter differences in culture will get to culture in just a moment for right now we’re focusing on encountering differences in people and growing from that experience a word of caution remember not to overshoot your own magnanimity magnanimity is overblown nobility for example and these are unfortunately accurate lines taken word for word from some of the essays that I’ve worked with in terms of my students in the past I. enjoy hanging out with gay people or even though I’m white and Jewish I’ve always been best friends with a half asian half Cherokee boy hopefully even reading these lines and hearing me say them makes you cringe a little bit as you understand that coming out and making these pronouncements it renders the student the one writing these lines it renders them somehow closed minded as if gay people or half asian half Cherokee people are something that can be paraded around something that can be put on a pedestal you need to be careful about using this kind of a view about using this kind of language because you don’t want to make it sound as if you take pride simply in the fact that you exist in a diverse world. what do you want to do instead instead you’d like to choose something that’s a little bit more subtle and thus more believable and realistic but it’s still meaningful some of the best examples I’ve seen from diversity essays written by my students over the years include gaining diverse cultural wisdom from a coach or family friend telling a story of a chance meeting with a helpful foreign stranger or coming to slowly recognize the varied attributes of your diverse friends and their contributions to your social sphere or common extracurricular task if you live in a city you need to remember the city advantage which is that sometimes diversity can become. common that differences between people become invisible here in New York I sometimes ask my students whether on the subway that they rode to school that morning if they took into account if they somehow cataloged the different backgrounds or ethnicities or races that they noticed even on the subway car and of course the overwhelming majority of them have and that’s simply because over the time that they’ve lived in New York City they’ve become. used to being around people from. many different races and cultures that those differences become invisible that can be a very effective topic to write about because by being able to see past the differences in people you can come to terms with many of the similarities which is not only an idea but a line that some of my students have used in their diversity essays as I mentioned you can also have a positive experience with diversity when it comes to encountering differences in culture and you still grow from the experience again a word of caution in this case avoid epiphanies such as my whole life changed when i discovered thai food or i’ve always been somewhat of a music aficionado but my ears melted enjoy the first time I heard a Scandinavian handbell choir again unfortunately I lifted these lines directly from essays from first drafts mind you of essays that some of my students have written over the years and rest assured these lines were then drastically rewritten if not completely removed altogether the bottom line is doesn’t matter how much you love Thai food your whole life doesn’t change when you eat it for the first time your whole life doesn’t change as a result of hearing a Scandinavian handbell choir and even though it sounds like the writer is trying to put Thai food or Scandinavian music up on a pedestal trying to promote them trying to make them sound as if they are special in some way it is in fact diminishing it is in fact in some people’s minds offensive to use cultural aspects like this as some type of commodity what would you shoot what should you do instead well again you want to choose something subtle more believable more realistic and still meaningful you may write about for example an appreciation for the similarities and religious additions or historical influences or experiences or perhaps you write about a pleasant surprise at the beauty of a foreign language or mode or work of art these are some of the ways that you can describe an experience with a diverse culture and still have it be meaningful to you now keep in mind diverse culture by itself is not enough culture is simply one way of getting into other people’s lives of getting to know different areas of the world or different ways of thinking. when we’re talking here about a foreign language or a work of art those are simply the on-ramps those are simply the doors that open our experiences into the people that speak that foreign language or the people that produce that work of art of course besides a positive experience with diversity you may also choose to write if it’s appropriate about a negative experience with diversity in this case prejudice some of the most common factors with respect to prejudice or race ethnicity age religion appearance gender national origin sexual orientation or disability I’m highlighting here socioeconomic status simply because it happens to be a factor of prejudice that is often overlooked and yet for many of my students it is a factor that they can effectively write about when it comes to perhaps their own prejudice or their own somewhat limited outlook being able to expand your mind expand your horizons when it comes to people of different races ethnicities genders sexual orientations or disabilities it doesn’t end there sometimes expanding your mind with respect to socioeconomic status can be just as poignant and can tell just as demonstrative just as compelling a story when done well keep in mind that it may be effective to choose an experience where you are witness rather than a victim sometimes first person victim stories may sound self-pitying now that’s not always the case if you were the victim of some elements of prejudice you should write about it if you feel comfortable as long as you don’t trade on engendering pity or sympathy from the admissions officer if you have witnessed an act of prejudice that might be especially in. short and essay a more compact a more feasible approach to this issue one that is more able to be adequately handled in simply a paragraph now I also mention here on the screen about first person perpetrator stories which are simply risky in this case I mean you’re writing about you actually being prejudiced in some way of you acting in some racist or otherwise discriminatory manner again in such a short essay it might not give you enough time enough word space to describe the incident and then to because this is what you will need to do describe your evolution away from that mindset your growth now that said if you do have a first-person perpetrator story where you were younger or you were misled or you misconstrued something that you then learned about and were able to move away from well that can be effective but just be careful not to paint yourself into a corner remember college applications are simply vehicles you need to use them as the tools that they are and while a first-person perpetrator story might be perfectly fine for you to include in a conversation with someone else or in some larger reflective piece it might not necessarily be the most effective choice here in a word limited supplemental application essay you also need to make sure again based on the length of this essay which typically comes in around 150 to 250 words some schools might not limit the diversity essay but most schools do you want to make sure not to overshoot the severity of the bias you need to choose a clear act of discrimination but not a catastrophic hate crime because you don’t want the reader focused on this short essay toward the incident itself rather than what should be the focus which is your own sensitivities or sensibilities consider a verbal slur you can handle that in a paragraph essay but a huge cross set on fire on a front lawn simply cannot if you’re describing a huge cross set on fire on a front lawn that’s what that paragraph is about and it’s not about you a verbal slur you can handle that in one or two sentences the incident itself and then spend the rest of the essay describing your reaction to it your growth from it the bottom line here is you need to remember to learn from the experience to show your learning from the experience either for your own diversity education or your discovery of the need to educate others show the admissions officer how you grow intellectually emotionally philosophically or how you recognize that you need to help others do. a friend or a family member perhaps sometimes a family member of an older generation where prejudices might be more ingrained and you take it upon yourself in a delicate but hopefully compelling way to try to bring that friend or that family member into a more open world into a more accepting mindset the third and final way of answering the diversity question besides the positive and negative experiences with diversity is by explaining your own diversity this is for students who happen to be genuinely diverse if you are great grandparents emigrated from Poland generations ago or you happen to be one sixteenth Argentinian boring exceptional circumstances those elements themselves generally do not make you genuine diverse you’re looking for diversity that actually affects your life in some practical way now if your great grandparents emigrated from Poland and that is all you have as a connection to Poland don’t mention it in the essay it will come across simply as if you are trading on that connection in an attempt to raise yourself to some diversity level that you naturally do not occupy however if your great grandparents emigrated from Poland and you have visited Poland half a dozen times and you speak Polish and you celebrate certain holidays or know the food or the culture or the art in other words if your great-grandparents having emigrated from Poland actually affects you in some regular way if you still have some connection to that homeland of their emigration in your life then absolutely right about that that won’t seem as if you’re trading on something from a long time ago or a place far away that will seem as if you’re simply describing your life you need to avoid overshooting with constructive diversity and what we mean by constructive diversity is if you happen to be the member of a majority group but in a particular moment in a particular context or situation you are rendered a minority based solely on numbers however absent a grave situation your constructive diversity for example being a reformed jew amongst Hasidim or being white in an all-black neighborhood it will still not in the eyes of some admissions readers be as authentic or educationally valuable as the diversity of a historically or legally or popularly recognized oppressed minority group constructive diversity essays are tricky to write and after all the years I’ve been doing this I have seen perhaps only one constructive diversity essay done well I’ve seen men that have been done poorly and after some discussion have been abandoned. I hope you’ve had an opportunity over the course of this video to gain some idea of the kind of diversity answer you would write to one of these supplemental essay questions I now invite you to move on to the next video in this series where we’re going to take a look at sample essays that have been written by my students over the years about diversity I will see you in the next video