KIM: Don’t forget the flyover states

Compared to 50 years ago, Yale has made leaps and strides in opening up this institution to people of all backgrounds. For anyone who denies this, just look at the fact that just a few decades ago, women weren’t even allowed as undergraduates. But to anyone who argues that we’re done fighting for diversity — that we’ve come far enough — I say no. In fact, it doesn’t take too much effort to recognize that the average Yale student still comes from rather similar upbringings.

Reading the column title, it’s not too hard to guess that I’m ethnically Asian; my last name is Kim, after all. But while I may be ethnically Asian, I consider myself a full-blooded American. I’m a Hoosier born and raised; for the many people who’ve never heard that term before, it means I’m from Indiana. Yes, Indiana — the “fly-over” state that’s kind of close to Chicago. You know, the one next to the Great Lakes? No? OK, well I can’t blame you, because in a place that emphasizes all aspects of diversity, there seems to be a lack of students from these “unimportant” (read: not California, New York or New England) states. While, yes, all 50 states are represented in the student body — and yes, while states such as New York or California are heavily populated — no one can argue that there’s a proportional representation of students from across the United States here at Yale. Just because these larger, more prominent states are recognized as hubs of culture doesn’t mean that places like Indiana aren’t.

Respecting different cultures and backgrounds means representing all cultures, not just some. And while places in Middle America like Indiana, with its country music, farms and corn — so much corn — may not seem cultivated in the “refined” sense, they still have culture nonetheless. These “fly-over” states are often mocked and ridiculed for being unsophisticated, boring and backward, but for me and many others, these places are home. It’s a place with its own special history, traditions and habits that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel, and while I have certainly learned a lot from experiencing other cities and countries, I’ve also learned to more greatly appreciate the culture I come from. The first time I came back from a summer spent in the bustling, impersonal metropolis of Seoul, I realized how much I missed home; yet, I found myself missing not only the familiarity of it, but something more. I missed its pace of life, the tightness of its community, and the values and priorities it held dearly. After stepping outside and recalibrating, I now noticed aspects of my own culture that I held dear, but had never particularly noted before. Many would say that these states and small towns hold antiquated values; and while this may be true, I believe that it makes these values all the more unique, and all the more important to represent in a culture that is shifting away from these values. These fly-over states are places that can teach everyone a little something about small town friendliness, community, trust, and corn. And this goes for all cultures; each one has its own gems and quirks that make it unique. None are superior to any other.

The pool of motivated and brilliant students in these states is not lacking. Many are simply dissuaded by the sheer difficulty of obtaining information on applying to selective schools such as Yale. In a small town where schools don’t bother to establish a presence, many students don’t fully understand the admissions process, and lack the resources to effectively learn about it. By increasing the number of admissions officers dedicated to these states, we would be able to increase our outreach to these demographics. An extended hand is all we need.

In a place where we’re supposed to discover ourselves and integrate other people’s values into our own being, we can’t afford to neglect the flyover states. We need to actively strive to include a wider range of people in our community so we can learn to incorporate and internalize the best parts of each culture that every person brings with him. We may have come a long way in terms of diversity, but we’re nowhere close to being done. It’s only with open ears and open eyes that we can truly move forward, and that means embracing and accepting all types of people — regardless of race, economic status or where they call “home.” Even if home is some small town nestled away in a state you occasionally forget exists.

Leo Kim is a freshman in Trumbull College. Contact him at leo.kim@yale.edu.

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