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Diversity of Universities

We all love MSU. We love the campus, we love our friends and classmates, we love the Red Cedar River, we even love the Wells Hall preacher and blizzards in March. But what would it be like if we were students somewhere else? What if we went to a school with only a fraction of the students we have here? What if we went to a school in the south, on the east coast or in the west? What if we went to a private or a religious school?

MSU has over 36,000 undergraduate students, it is located East Lansing, Mich. and it is public and secular.

Tulane University has about 5,500 undergraduate students, it is located in New Orleans, La. and it is private and secular.

Brigham Young University has about 30,000 undergrads, it is located in Provo, Utah, and it is private and religious, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

What would it be like to go to one of these schools? And in comparison, what does it mean to be a Spartan?

Tulane University

Marisa Muniak is a 20-year-old junior at Tulane University who is studying cellular biology. She calls New Orleans “the greatest college town ever” and says she absolutely loves her school, but she isn’t from the city, or from Louisiana, or even from the South – in fact, she was born and raised in Michigan. She attended Boyne City High School, where she graduated in 2007. So why Tulane?

“I had visited New Orleans before and loved the city,” Muniak said. “I grew up in a small little boring city, so actually seeing a huge city with lots of life, it was amazing. And they also had the program I wanted…it was meant to be.”

Tulane is a private school with about 1,500 incoming freshman each year. With about 5,500 undergraduates total, the student to faculty ratio is eight to one, and the average class size is 22 students. There are about 75 majors available and on-campus students live in one of eight residence halls. Tuition along with mandatory fees, such as for the student health and recreation centers, comes to about $42,000 for an academic year.

In her third year now, Muniak lives off-campus after spending her two required years in the dorms. Unlike many students here at MSU who live in housing that is essentially exclusive to students, Muniak and her roommate live in an area where they are the only Tulane students, although their neighbors are Tulane professors. She added that the rest of the people living around them are non-student New Orleans residents.

“But we’re like a five, seven minute walk from campus,” Muniak said. “I’m sure if you were just like one or two blocks off campus there would be a lot more students.”

A five or seven minute walk? To a Tulane student, that might be a long way away, but to an MSU student, it’s probably shorter than a walk between buildings on campus. Five to seven minutes would get you from some of the closest East Lansing apartments to about the Union. So what’s it like going to such a small school?

“I can walk around campus and even though I may not know somebody’s name, or even what year they are or major or anything, it’s still a familiar face,” Muniak said. “And all the workers on campus, they’re all so sweet.”

Muniak said that attitude is part of the southern culture.

“What they say about southern hospitality, it totally exists,” she said. “It’s so different, we make jokes all the time on campus because a lot of us are from the Midwest or the East, we’re always joking about like, ‘Oh, in the North people don’t hold doors open for us.’”

Going to a college that was built in a pre-existing city instead of one that essentially created its own city like MSU has also had an effect on Muniak’s experience. She said she loves the fact that when she’s in New Orleans, not everybody is a student – in fact, most people aren’t. She frequents jazz clubs and other venues for local music, loves southern cooking (red beans and rice is her favorite dish) and has adjusted to a whole new way of life.

“We’re all on New Orleans time down here – things will happen when they happen, and it doesn’t, no worries,” Muniak said. “It’s definitely become something I love.”

She added that college culture is a lot different than at a big state school – freshman usually only go to one or two football games at Tulane before they give up on the team. “Anything [athletic] we do, we’re horrible,” Muniak said. But there are some things that are somewhat universal.

“There’s definitely plenty of partying,” she said. “There’s huge Greek life here. One side of campus – there’s plenty of houses along there and a lot people go to those.”

From nightlife to housing, Muniak’s experience gives an idea of what it’s like to live and study at a relatively small private school located in a big city.

“It’s been a lot of hard work as far as academics, but the environment that I’m in has really made it worth it,” Muniak said. “Knowing I’m going to have a hard exam on Friday but then Saturday I can go and listen to this world-renowned jazz musician – something to look forward to at the end of the road – has been great.”

Brigham Young University

Sabrina Smith is one of the very few African American students on her campus in Provo, Utah. In the fall of 2009, BYU had 29,587 undergraduates. Smith, an elementary music education sophomore and Florida native was one of only 165 African Americans – that’s about 0.5 percent. In comparison, about eight percent of MSU undergraduates in fall of 2009 were African American.

“Utah itself isn’t as diverse as where I’m from,” Smith said. “It’s primarily Caucasian people here…I wish that there was more diversity, but I think that every year it gets a little bit better.”

Smith may be a minority in racial terms, but in another way she is part of the most significant majority population on campus. Like 98.7 percent of students at BYU, Smith is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormon church.

BYU was founded by Brigham Young himself in 1875, when Young was the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. According to BYU’s website, Young told the principal of the school at the time, “Brother Maeser, I want you to remember that you ought not to teach even the alphabet or the multiplication tables without the Spirit of God.”

BYU takes that instruction to heart. Religion is incorporated into every aspect of student life, from academics to housing to behavioral guidelines. Fourteen religion credits are required to graduate, which Smith says means students are taking a religion class almost every semester. In addition, religion is a common theme throughout other classes as well.

“Every class is supposed to incorporate the gospel as far as the curriculum allows it to,” Smith said. “So in pretty much any class they can bring up a scripture and associate it with whatever we’re talking about, and in most syllabi you get there will be at least one quote from the scriptures.”

Smith was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (she calls herself LDS), so she said the environment at BYU wasn’t a big change for her. One of the 439 non-LDS students enrolled in the fall of 2009 might have found it hard to adjust to not being able to drink coffee, tea or alcohol or conforming to strict dress and grooming standards. All behavioral standards are explained in BYU’s Honor Code, which requires students to “seek to demonstrate in daily living on and off campus those moral virtues encompassed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

This means no alcohol, no sex, no profanity, no beards for the men and no sleeveless shirts for the women, among other things.

“All lot of it has to do with dressing, grooming, which is like how you’re obviously dressing your body and also your hair,” Smith said. “Boys have to keep their hairstyle pretty short, it has to be above their ears and no one, girl or boy can have any kind of drastic hair color or style, and dress is supposed to be modest. On-campus and off-campus you’re not supposed to be using profanity, you’re not supposed to be watching anything that is in appropriate. Basically you’re just saying with the Honor Code that you’re going to uphold the gospel of the church.”

All off-campus housing must be approved by the university as meeting certain living standards and visiting hours are from 9 a.m. to 12 a.m.. No members of the opposite sex are allowed in bedrooms, and no members of the opposite sex are allowed to use bathroom facilities “unless emergency or civility dictates otherwise,” according to the Honor Code. All students must be in good Honor Code standing in order to receive a diploma.

The Honor Code may seem restricting to an outsider, but Smith said following it isn’t that different from simply following the rules of the LDS religion in daily life.

“It’s supposed to be what you’re living your life as anyways if you’re LDS,” Smith said. “And the people I know who aren’t LDS that go to BYU say that it isn’t really that big of an adjustment, because before they came to the school they knew what they were getting into.”

Even with strict behavioral guidelines, Smith said there is a lot that BYU students can do to have fun. Popular activities include going to the dollar theater, the bowling alley or attending one of the frequent university-organized activities.

“There is a lot of partying at BYU, but it’s different,” Smith said. “There isn’t any alcohol, but there isn’t any smoking, so in that respect it’s different. But there are a lot of dance parties and that kind of thing in Provo. There’s a lot of dancing.”

In addition, many male and female students actually do live together –  because they are married. Smith said it is very common for undergraduate students to marry at a young age, something she found very odd when she moved from Florida to Utah.

“Most students I know of get married by the time they graduate BYU, and that’s pretty standard,” Smith said. “There are lots of people in my classes who are engaged or married and I’m only a sophomore, so they’re about my same age, about 19 or 20.”

In spite of the cultural adjustment, Smith said she has enjoyed her time at BYU so far.

“I’m in the music program, so I really like the music aspect,” Smith said. “There are so many classes on music you can take, and they’re all very interesting. I also like that in any class you can have a gospel-centered discussion and that’s open. In some universities you can’t really bring up religion that much, and at BYU it’s very open.”

Michigan State University

We all know the basics about MSU. Over 47,000 students, non-religious, public. Great athletic programs, hundreds of possible majors and even more student organizations. The majority of us are from Michigan, so we grew up cheering on the Spartans in football and basketball, maybe even visiting friends or siblings on campus. We know what life is like here – what to expect from our classes, what clubs and organizations are most popular, what students tend to do on the weekends. But what does MSU look like to someone who didn’t grow up around this environment?

Rosie Williamson, a 20-year-old arts and humanities sophomore from New Jersey said she toured over 20 colleges, including Ohio State University, Indiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania State University before deciding on MSU. She chose MSU for several reasons, including the respected Spartan Marching Band in which she plays the trumpet, the location and the campus itself.

“It’s just one of the prettiest campuses I’ve ever visited,” Williamson said. “It’s so lush green, and the fact that we get all the seasons – I know everyone hates the snow, but I love the snow.”

The East Coast-native said that moving to the Midwest was definitely an adjustment.

“New Jersey and New York are very fast-paced and really loud and kind of have jagged edges everywhere, and the Midwest doesn’t,” Williamson said. “Even the major cities like Chicago, it’s got the charm of New York City, but it’s slower and nicer and cleaner.”

Gabe Santi, director of communications in the MSU Office of Admissions, and a graduate from the MSU School of Journalism, also emphasized the attitude of MSU students, faculty and staff as one of the best things about the university.

“One hundred and fifty years ago to go to college you had to be rich, you had to be white, you had to be male,” Santi said. “And Michigan State being the nation’s pioneer land-grant institution kind of changed that a little…Down-to-earth, hardworking, real, authentic, tangible – those are the words that come to mind when people talk about Michigan State and there’s a reason for that and it’s certainly because of the history of this place, but it’s also a testament to the current student body – people get that Spartan tradition. We use the word Spartan family a lot. It’s a large institution, but when you get right down to it, it’s a pretty close-knit place.”

Williamson agreed that in spite of MSU’s large size, the university has a small-town feel to it, which was another of the factors that attracted her to the university, in addition to the fact that MSU is a Big Ten school.

“I absolutely love the athletics at this school,” Williamson said. “I love the spirit that this school has for all the athletics, whether or not people attend. At least people are watching it and talking about it – I think that’s really great.”

Santi added that it is the Spartan spirit that tends to bond people together, whether it is current students, professors or alumni.

“Once you’re on campus and you interact this place a little, you start to bleed green,” Santi said. “It’s going to be with you for the rest of your life. You’re going to see people throughout the country, throughout the world and you’re going to have that instant bond…I think there is something a little indescribable that’s part of this place, that’s kind of just woven into the fabric of its founding.”

One Response to “Diversity of Universities”

  1. Clint Cora says:

    I speak on diversity on campuses and the earlier students learn to deal with diversity, the better. When they graduate, there will be much more diversity in the working world and being able to manage diversity will help them become more effective in diverse working environments.

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