A Newcomer Observes RCHS

Caitlyn Hill, Adviser

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Nobody would dare make the claim these days that general diversity is unimportant. Anyone who does is shunned and ridiculed. Why is this? In my life, I’ve had always had very straightforward and clear personal ideas of what diversity is and what it looks like–and until recently, I was never given reason to think anything else.
The main benefit the presence of diversity of any kind alotts an individual is empathy–the ability to identify with and understand the plights and situations of others who initially seem different from ourselves. Sophomore Stanley Oaks, a newcomer to RCHS from West Point Beach, Fla., a place whose ethnic diversity greatly exceeds that of Rockbridge County, effectively articulated this point when discussing his observations of the impact of diversity at his previous school.
“For me personally, I think it helped all of us to have a greater understanding of culture and different backgrounds, and a better appreciation of that,” said Oaks. “Everyone was very welcoming and accepting of others, and we accepted we had a lot to learn from each other.”
Coming in as a black girl from Iowa City, Iowa, a small spot of immense cultural and ethnic diversity amidst a vast spread of anglo saxon whiteness and cornfields, I understood the benefits of cultural and ethnic diversity. Growing up, I spent long afternoons at my neighbor’s house listening to his mother lightheartedly scold him in Spanish. Likewise, I attempted to sort out the specific consistencies and disparities between another friend’s Muslim practice and my Christianity. I ate different types of food at different peoples’ houses, and watched a number of my Asian friends stress out over their homework for Chinese school.
However, I missed out on aspects of diversity in Iowa. Iowa City was homogenous as far as political opinions, these tending radically towards the left, and the circles in which I rotated were certainly not socioeconomically diverse. Therefore, my idea of diversity formed largely at a racial and ethnic level.
Coming into Rockbridge County with this limited understanding of the word diversity, I anticipated that the lack of divergence I saw in skin color would be reflected culturally and ideologically.
Sophomore Elisha Hayslett has lived in Rockbridge County for her entire life, and her commentary on the matter helped me gain a deeper understanding of life in Rockbridge.
“Diversity has definitely changed my own image and views,” said Hayslett. “Since ROCO has a lot of diversity it has shaped my style and my perception of the world and how it works, and my style of clothing as well.”
In response to these comments, I found myself thinking, A lot of diversity? Where do they keep it? However, when I asked her for clarification, Hayslett explained that in using the term “diversity,” she referred to the notion of socioeconomic diversity, which is prominent in Rockbridge County and within Lexington and Buena Vista.
Senior Hunter Grist, another lifelong resident of Rockbridge County, helped further my understanding, adding an emphasis on the vast disparities that exist within the city and county between basic liberal and conservative beliefs. However, she also expressed a general desire to see more ethnic and cultural diversity within the school.
“I mean, we do have socioeconomic diversity, and people with different viewpoints, but we’re missing that cultural, ethnic diversity piece,” said Grist.
Ultimately, experiencing diversity of all types is integral to the basic ability to communicate and empathize with people of different backgrounds and viewpoints. Diversity provides exposure to these different aspects of life, and to the reality that not everybody is going to be the same. Exposure to diversity in different areas such as culture, race, politics, and socioeconomic status helps students learn how to properly approach and respond to these ideas when presented with them in their daily lives.
Personally, I’m glad to be able to combine my previous Iowa City experiences, which centered largely around ethnic diversity and yet were lacking in many other types, with a new experience in Rockbridge where I’ll be able to achieve exposure to new and different, yet equally relevant types of diversity.