The not-so-many differences between you and me

Christina Stavale

As each of my 163 classmates walked the stage to receive their high school diplomas about two years ago, I could tell you something about almost every one of them.

It wasn’t because I was friends with everyone; it was mainly because everyone knew everything about each other – to the point where I could tell you whether each of my classmates had siblings (and their siblings’ names and ages), where they were going to college, what their grades were like and what they had been involved in during high school.

And on the off chance that I couldn’t tell you one of these things about a classmate, I could almost assume they shared my Catholic faith. (After all, I attended a Catholic school.)

This kind of environment made it easy to find common ground with others throughout high school. I grew accustomed to walking through the halls in between classes, knowing everyone I passed. It was my comfort zone.

Hence, choosing Kent State was a huge step out of my comfort zone. I was admittedly scared to go to a public school for the first time. I didn’t know what kind of people I would encounter. For four years, everyone I knew was so similar to me. I was scared I might not get along with those who were different.

But aside from its huge student body, Kent State had exactly what I was looking for in a college. So I took my chances, and two years later, I couldn’t be more grateful.

As I walked around campus those first few weeks, I realized that I knew nothing about anyone. It was strange to me, but it was an easier adjustment than I predicted. Instead of relying on labels to draw connections, I forced myself to really get to know and understand people.

During that year I slowly began to embrace the fact that I got along with plenty of people who may or may not have been from the same background as me. Things like family history, major, faith and what someone is involved in may label us, but that doesn’t mean they actually matter when it comes to getting along with someone.

My biggest awakening came when I covered the minority affairs beat for the Daily Kent Stater last year. I wondered how a white girl who had obviously been part of the majority her entire life could cover the minority communities on campus. It didn’t take long to find the answer: Have an open mind.

Every week, I met someone who came from a different background than I did. And every week as I talked to the same or different people, I learned something new, whether it was about the support networks sexual minorities have or the racism black students still face. Before this, I had no idea.

I also learned the differences between me and the people I talked to were slim, while the similarities were right there in front of me. After all, when it all comes down to it, we’re all college students trying to graduate. And isn’t that similarity enough?

It’s natural to be drawn to people who look just like you, especially when you’ve been brought up in that kind of environment for your entire life. You might not realize it, but you may automatically sit next to someone who looks like you in class. You may subconsciously stray to the other side of the sidewalk when someone who looks different from you walks by. Make a conscious effort not to do that.

It’s not hard to look past stereotypes and labels to find common ground. The more you step outside your comfort zone, the more you realize that those things don’t really matter. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone, but you can still show that you understand.

Contact editor Christina Stavale at [email protected].