College is a time for many important things, and one of those is re-imaging the way you view the world. For many college first-year students, life has (up until this point) been lived in one place with people of mostly similar backgrounds. Once in college, however, you will be exposed to a variety of viewpoints, opinions, cultures, and experiences that will be very different from your own.
Many colleges recruit students and faculty from all over the country and the world, so there’s a good chance many of the people you meet will be from places you know nothing about. While this may seem scary to some, it is actually a great opportunity for learning and growth.
By engaging with diversity in all its forms, you will be able to see things from different angles and expand your perspective to better understand the full complexity of the world. Recognizing socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, sexual, religious, and political diversity are important to seeing the world through fresher, clearer, more well-informed eyes. Our worldviews are often limited by what we have seen in our own lives, so when we make a sincere effort to understand how people from different backgrounds understand the world around them, we learn new modes of thinking and encounter challenging questions we may not have previously been aware of.
In seeking out new perspectives, your resulting opinions will be stronger, you will be a more worldly person, and you will recognize that there are always new things you can learn more about. Whatever opinions you hold now can continually be improved, updated, and amended.
Here are some things you can do on or off campus to make sure your time in college allows you to critically reassess your views and opinions:
Seek out people who disagree with you.
It’s easy to get caught in an echo chamber of people who already share your opinions, but this doesn’t force you to challenge the way you think. Making an active effort to be friends with people with different political or religious beliefs will ensure that you don’t get stuck in an opinion bubble. Plus, when you have good relationships with people who disagree with you, you are more likely to realize that their opinions come from good faith, not from a radical desire to “ruin” the world.
Advocate for unpopular opinions.
This can be a hard role to play in conversation, but it’s important to be a voice that won’t just kowtow to the dominant ideology. When someone makes a claim, it’s valuable to be the one to push back on it (respectfully), since this can cause all people involved to more deeply examine why they hold their beliefs. You don’t have to play the “devil’s advocate” and stick up for opinions that you truly find appalling, but you can ask probing questions, critique arguments, and voice the viewpoints that nobody else is sharing.
Explore unfamiliar topics.
On college assignments, students have a tendency to write about things they are familiar with. This may make for easier work, but it doesn’t have the kind of benefits that learning about unknown topics does. When you do a research paper on a culture you know little about, or write a philosophy essay on a moral dilemma you hadn’t considered before, you will be able to learn with an open mind and grow in areas you hadn’t previously imagined. Sure, it might be hard to dive into an unfamiliar topic, but in the long-term, learning how to challenge yourself like this is sure to come in handy.
Reflect on your own beliefs.
Being away from home, college is a good time to reflect on where your beliefs came from. Sometimes things that seem central to your identity are actually just a byproduct of your upbringing, and may not be what you really believe when you take the time to reflect. By really analyzing why you think what you think, you’ll often realize that a different way to think is just as or even more reasonable. Self-reflection is an important part of personal growth, and college – the hallowed place of learning – is the perfect place to perform that growth process.
If you are curious and bold in your thinking in college, your beliefs will change and grow throughout your time there. Although this thought may be disconcerting, the uncomfortable process of intellectual growth and development is exactly what college is designed for.
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By Aidan Calvelli.