I grew up in Fairlawn, a suburb of Akron, Ohio. It is, without a doubt, a great place to be from. It was the kind of place where kids walked to school, teens mowed lawns and babysat and parents played golf and bridge. My friends lived in houses near the country club or in an older area of spacious homes and more spacious yards; my neighborhood was quite modest by comparison. We ate dinner every night at 5:30 p.m. Many dads worked for the rubber companies, for whom the high schools were named. I went to Firestone High School, which was shiny and new and boasted not only a natatorium but a planetarium. We had a hip, young advisor for our student newspaper who stood up for us when we drizzled four-letter words in an article on gun control -- our first foray into protesting. We won changes to the dress code after a sit-in or two. That was in 1970 and Kent State was only 40 minutes away but quite near to our sensibilities. With only a few exceptions, everyone went on to college.
One thing that our high school did not have was any diversity whatsoever. I recall only one person of color and no one for whom English was a second language or who had immigrated from lands far away. Our diversity was relegated to various religions, but only Jewish, Catholic, Protestant -- not Muslim nor Buddhist. I learned about dradels and bagels and lox and heard about Kennebunkport and the Hamptons and always ate corn that was only hours off the husk.
Even at college, also in Ohio, my exposure to foreign countries and the people who lived there was limited to lectures and text books.
Consider now the contrast with one of my fall classes at George Mason University. Thirty students spent the semester studying social media engagement and public relations. Andy was from The Netherlands, spoke four languages and was a GoPro-sponsored kite boarder. Mina was on the tennis team and would spend the Christmas holiday at home with her family in Turkey before returning for training. Sadly one student would spend the winter break in the dorm instead of with her family in South Korea. Tracy was applying for jobs at home in Beijing; Nik had already secured a summer job back home in Malaysia. One young woman was looking forward to continuing work with the youth foundation she started in Saudi Arabia. The American-born students were diverse as well, in race and geography, with students from the local area and New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and southern Virginia.
Imagine just how rich, varied and deep were our discussions on Trump's call to ban Muslims, on the shootings in San Bernandino, Black Lives Matter and the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage. With our diverse backgrounds come diverse analyses. There were so many moments when we paused because someone had said something that just made us think and re-think. As a diversity university, Mason delivers a broad world view to its students. And, to its professors.