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Antonio Sierra: Why we embrace diversity

SUN-STAR PHOTO BY LISA JAMES
ldjames@mercedsun-star.com
Tinikling dancers perform at UC Merced's 2009 Asian Fest.

Tinikling, the national dance, is considered to be the oldest of the Philippine folk dances. It also comes from the countryside. The dance takes its name and movements from the "tinikling" bird as it roams between grass steams, crushes tree branches and avoids traps set by rice farmers.

Dancers skip gracefully back and forth while trying to avoid getting their feet caught by two bamboo poles.

There are many tall tales about the dance's origins. According to one story, Filipino farm workers who displeased their Spanish masters had their feet smashed by two bamboo poles.When the poles were apart, the workers would jump to avoid getting hurt. Thus, this dance was born.

April 4th, 2010
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY LISA JAMES ldjames@mercedsun-star.com Tinikling dancers perform at UC Merced's 2009 Asian Fest. Tinikling, the national dance, is considered to be the oldest of the Philippine folk dances. It also comes from the countryside. The dance takes its name and movements from the "tinikling" bird as it roams between grass steams, crushes tree branches and avoids traps set by rice farmers. Dancers skip gracefully back and forth while trying to avoid getting their feet caught by two bamboo poles. There are many tall tales about the dance's origins. According to one story, Filipino farm workers who displeased their Spanish masters had their feet smashed by two bamboo poles.When the poles were apart, the workers would jump to avoid getting hurt. Thus, this dance was born. April 4th, 2010 Merced Sun-Star

Diversity is a word that appears often in college jargon.

Every university in the United States usually describes its student body with the word. While this isn't true for every university, UC Merced truly embraces the variety of cultures that the students bring to the university.

Today, Asian Fest takes place on campus.

Asian Fest is one of the biggest campus events every year and enjoys immense popularity among students. The festivities focus on the customs and celebrations of countries from the continent of Asia.

Last year's festivities were headlined by Dat Phan, a Vietnamese-American comedian, and Super Crew, a dance group that had previously performed on the MTV show, "America's Best Dance Crew."

But the appeal of Asian Fest isn't solely in the celebrity it might attract, but also in the unique student experience that a cultural celebration can present.

For the students who organize the events, an opportunity is given to share their culture with others. And for the students and others who attend Asian Fest, an opportunity is given to learn and immerse themselves in cultural customs they might not otherwise experience.

For one day, students come together to share cultural perspectives.

But in truth, this phenomenon occurs every day on a smaller scale at UC Merced.

While UC Merced is still relatively new, it is starting to show all the signs of a diverse campus. UC Merced, along with the rest of the UC system, takes students from various backgrounds and cultures and brings them together to be educated.

This is what an ideal university should be: A gathering of fresh, young minds with a diverse set of ideas to form new solutions based on the wide variety of students in a student body. Even though UC Merced's student body is small, its overall diversity feeds the notion that it too is striving for the ideal.

Given how small UC Merced is compared to other public universities, students enjoy a better chance to interact with a wider array of peers on a personal level.

In some of the bigger universities, a student might only have limited interactions restricted to people within his immediate social circle. A more tight-knit student body means that students are more apt to reach outside their comfort zone to form relationships.

It's always the smaller interactions that lead to the long-lasting effects. This is how diversity is put into positive practice.

For instance, it could be the forming of a friendship of two students from vastly different backgrounds.

Or it could be a professor or lecturer coming to Merced from another part of the world to impart her knowledge through a speaking event. Or maybe it comes in the form of a cultural celebration, and Asian Fest is one of many that are held on campus throughout the year.

The phrase, "Variety is the spice of life," is one that is thrown around a lot when referring to the benefits of diversity. But the reason it is used so often is because of its validity.

I truly feel that meeting so many different types of people has enriched my college experience.

When I first came to UC Merced, the prospect of being exposed to so many different people was intimidating. But soon after my arrival, I came to embrace the experience of being a part of a diverse student body.

When you belong to a student body like this, it makes you feel that your unique perspective helps shape the university you attend. Everyone who attends UC Merced has something to add that will help the university grow.

This mindset battles the notion that conforming to an identity is the path to acceptance for young students: At UC Merced, bringing a fresh perspective is valued.

The recent racial tension at some of the other UCs is evidence that there are still challenges in creating a diverse campus. Hopefully, this is only an obstacle and not a deterrent in continuing to encourage a diverse atmosphere at the UCs.

If Asian Fest is any indication, UC Merced has no plans to put an end to its tradition of diversity. Setting a standard for diversity today opens up the possibilities of tomorrow.

Antonio Sierra is a student at UC Merced. He is from Los Angeles.

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