story Swarnima Sircar, Contributing Reporter
As the only Japanese in the Class of 2019, Risa Shindo ’19 thinks she got in because of her passport. “I totally got in because of nationality because I’m the only Japanese,” she said. And she’s not the only one, according to students interviewed. The emphasis Yale-NUS College has on its diversity has led to some students feeling that they are here to fulfil a “diversity quotient”.
Yet in an environment of stellar students from a plethora of backgrounds, and an institution that prides itself on its community, students feel that diversity of nationality is a limiting definition. Diverse experiences and perspectives matter more than nationalities, some say.
Others are certain that they are here because of personal merit, not nationality. Rima Bettaieb ’19, the only Tunisian at Yale-NUS, firmly believes that she would not have been admitted if she wasn’t qualified. “Maybe me being Tunisian was something that caught their eye, but you don’t bring people in here because of where they’re born,” she said. Taha Tehseen ’19, agreed: “It’s not as if you’re getting a free pass because of your nationality. I know a lot of people who got into really great colleges—Ivy-League universities—but got rejected by Yale-NUS.”
The Admissions and Financial Aid Office has never admitted someone just because of their nationality, said Senior Associate Director of Admissions Laura Severin. She was surprised when she was asked about students who feel that they were admitted just because of their nationality. “That’s disappointing,” she said. “Yes, we want different nationalities and different backgrounds but you’d never be in a situation where you have two students who are basically the same and then you choose on the basis of nationality.” She added that “academic fit” and students’ preparation and experiences were key.
Across the board, students and staff interviewed agree that diversity of perspective is far more meaningful than diversity of nationality. “Having 50 different passports is not completely meaningless but not very meaningful either,” Francesca Maviglia ’19 said. Having students of diverse socio-economic class has more impact than geographical diversity, she added. Though she was from an international high school, she said students from public schools would have a lot to contribute.
Students who are the only ones from their countries may struggle with cultural loneliness. Rebeca Salazar ’19 said she felt unusually distanced in the beginning, not just as the only El Salvadoran, but also as the only Latin American in the Class of 2019. Bettaieb said she had a “mini crisis in the beginning” being the only Tunisian, particularly because she had no one to speak her language with.
Yet, given the option to go to a school with a larger Pakistani population, Tehseen said he would not go. “I was born and raised in that environment,” he said. “For me to learn about the world, I think that I have to step out of what I have always known.” Bettaieb said she can now differentiate between what she wants to keep from her culture, and is better able to see how she had been “conditioned as a person in Tunisia.” This, she said, has made her more open to change.
Students here can also expect peers who are curious about each other’s backgrounds. Shindo appreciates that people here ask her where she comes from because she is very eager to talk about Japan, even though she has lived in the United States for 10 years. “Their questions might stereotype but even then, I’m telling them something new about Japan and I like doing that.” Salazar added that diversity added to the experience, but if people don’t engage in making use of this diversity then there is not much point to it.
Ms. Sara Amjad, in-charge of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said her advice to students is to be open to, and engage with, diversity. All the students who were interviewed strongly advocated diversity of perspective, with most ceding that diversity in nationality often leads to it.