Diversity at Wharton… or the Lack Thereof?

During my UCLA graduation, my proud father forced me to take pictures with what seemed like every single friend I had on campus. As we were taking part in my twentieth photoshoot of the day, my dad remarked, “Don’t you know anyone that isn’t Indian?” I had never stopped to think about it until then, but the answer was sadly, no. And my homogeneity was entirely my fault: I was social chair for the Indian club, on a competitive collegiate Bollywood dance team (yes, those actually exist), and Editor-in-Chief of Sandesha, UCLA’s South Asian journal. With every second of non-academic life related to all things brown, I never gave myself the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone, and more importantly, the opportunity to diversify my perspectives and expand my horizons.

I vowed that if I ever got another opportunity to go to school again, I would actively try to pursue experiences with different people from different backgrounds, and I am proud to say that I have done just that. However, I will say that I have seen some of my peers ascribe to my former behavior in undergrad, and it has made for an occasional odd social dynamic in the World of Wharton.

Interestingly enough, Wharton touts its diversity as one of its key selling points. For instance, 30% of the student body is from an international background, and we have by far, the highest female representation out of any Tier-1 business school. While the composition of our class is extremely diverse, much of the social dynamic here reminds me of that elementary school experiment trying to mix oil and water. It is littered with what I call lowest common denominator social groups-groups, composed of all Asians, all Blacks, etc. We’ve all seen the cliques based around similar ethnicity and race, and don’t tell me you don’t wish you had more friends in Whalasa, or from the Vets Club.

Now it’s easy to say, well that’s not Wharton’s fault, that’s just human nature – for instance, people feel more comfortable hanging out with others like them. That is partially true, but Wharton could also do a much better job at addressing the homogeneity that permeates throughout campus. For example, the rah-rah culture that Kembrel has done such a phenomenal job of creating appeals to many domestic students, but many internationals simply don’t know how to relate. I recently spoke to one of my friends from India who told me when he came to Welcome Weekend, he hated it, and did not know how to relate to this aspect of the culture. The same goes for pre-term. So he did what himself and so many others like him do: retreat to students from his homeland. If you look at his friend group, you realize that he might as well be in India. As one of the leading business schools, we could do a better job of being more inclusive, keeping people’s cultural differences in mind.

Never in our lives will we have such incredible access to 2400+ people from different countries, sexual orientations, and perspectives on life. We owe it to ourselves to not only enrich each other, but the larger community as a whole. We are more than just high GMATs and high GPAs, and we can only truly begin to harness our community’s potential by getting out of our comfort zones, and taking advantage of the current platforms we have to have more meaningful conversation. Imagine, for example, if Out4Biz was more than just the White Party and cool heathered t-shirts for the non-LGBTQ student? Understanding issues and creating consistent dialogue would be way more impactful than putting a rainbow sticker on your name placard and continuing to perpetuate the superficial diversity that I have found defining some of the community at Wharton.

The issues and questions I bring up have no easy answer, but we must start to make an active effort in trying. Diversity comes in all shapes, forms, and sizes, and often requires you to get out of your comfort zone. Have you spoken to someone who’s a polar opposite recently? Do it, meet someone different, and I promise you that you won’t regret it. I know I haven’t.

Have questions/comments/short stories/disputes to add on this topic? Email me at varun.uttam@gmail.com or submit to whartonjournal@gmail.com


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