According to the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, “biodiversity refers to the variety of life on Earth at all its levels, from genes to ecosystems, and the ecological and evolutionary processes that sustain it.” In the environmental sciences, biodiversity is heralded as fundamental in sustaining life. Without a variety of environments, geographies and organisms, life could not exist.
Biodiversity refers to the physical sciences, but this principle is applicable to sociology as well. Social groups need diverse kinds of people to maintain a healthy, intellectual and flourishing culture. A popular TED Talk by writer and lecturer Susan Cain called “The power of introverts” hails the interconnectedness of introverts and extroverts alike. People with varying personalities and degrees of sociability are able to make different kinds of physical, emotional and professional contributions. Though introverted and extroverted humans belong to the same species, they can serve distinct roles because of their differences. Cain’s talk helps prove that all sorts of diversity are necessary.
Recently, discussions about “diversity” in academic settings inevitably center on race and ethnicity. While these are necessary discussions, diversity is about far more than one dimension of identity: People come from different geographic origins, cultural affiliations, economic conditions, political beliefs and aptitudes. For many of us at Yale and similar institutions, we were drawn to such schools because they boast diversity in every sense.
When students move off-campus, they isolate themselves from such diversity. The vast majority of students who leave the residential college system during junior or senior years stick with people of similar origins, identities and interests. Over the years, my friends and I have made countless jokes about the kinds of Yalies and where they tend to live. Certain streets belong to Greek organizations; other buildings seem to be entirely upper-middle-class and white. Though everyone is entitled to making their own choices, they’re also confining themselves to a smaller set of people and potential interactions. This seems to counteract Yale’s institutional commitment to broadening our intellectual and cultural stimuli. The Elmhurst building doesn’t have the same diversity that Jonathan Edwards College enjoys.
My favorite thing to do is stand in the middle of Old Campus at night. I often consider that I now know only a fraction of its inhabitants. L-Dub is three years removed from me and my freshman year. I watch the yellow lights as they emanate from the windows, and then consider how all these twinkling lights and Target desk lamps will move throughout New Haven (and the world) in the next few years.
By the end of sophomore year, many of these kids will consider moving off-campus. Some of my best friends moved off campus, and technically, Yale needs this because there aren’t often enough dorms in every residential college. (Junior year annexing is real, and it is annoying.) I know that plenty of people move off-campus for real, legitimate reasons: food allergies, financial advantages or a sense of independence. I personally benefit from my off-campus friends’ living quarters because it’s nice to have access to real kitchens and living rooms — larger spaces to mix drinks and enjoy those drinks. Sometimes people just feel better living physically separate from Yale. Much like people choose suites, they choose off-campus roommates. But off-campus housing is much less centralized; you can’t wander into any apartment in your building.
Freshman year, we arrive eager to meet everyone. I’m sad that we lose that wonder. I’m sad that so many of my peers don’t think more critically about creating a diverse world for themselves.
Off-campus living can be isolating. In the last four years, I’ve known many upperclassmen that elected to live off-campus and later resented their conditions, or questioned their choices. They felt stuck. They were lonely and distant. The majority of them missed the interconnectedness of freshman year on Old Campus, even those L-Dub bunk beds and dim lights in Lawrence Hall. While freshman year is exhausting, it also facilitates interactions with people who challenge us, change us and sustain us. Far too many upperclassmen are stuck around the same kinds of people from the same kinds of places with the same kinds of interests as them. Journalists need to debate policy with pre-meds; artists need to engage with anthropologists. Such occurrences are more likely in an on-campus residence.
Yale cannot represent the diversity of our entire world, but it makes a fine attempt at creating a holistically representative student body. We came to Yale to take advantage of this, and it would be a shame to waste such an opportunity. Our livelihood relies upon mutuality, and that means engaging with all kinds of people.
Stay on campus. Don’t stick with your own kind. Your survival depends on it.
Adriana Miele is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .