One of the things that I have always admired about academia is that it tends to be tremendously diverse. I can scarcely think of a single graduate program that isn't populated by an international cast. Except maybe mine. Oh, we are international, not terribly racially diverse, and somehow we have failed to integrate.
Our faculty is young. Since I came in 2003, we have hired 6 new faculty members. Every hire was to replace an retiring white botanist or ecologist. Aging, white, male botanist or ecologist. All but one of the new hires were straight out of college. Four women. Two men. All white. Despite the strides the department has made in bringing gender equity to the faculty, they have failed miserably to post any gains in racial diversity. All the faculty in our department are white. All are Americans save one Asian. Seven men. Four women. One male and one female emeritus faculty.
The graduate students are far more diverse. We have students from Korea, China, Senegal, Nepal, and Colombia. In the recent past, we had students from Panama, India, Argentina, and Ghana. I've met people from California, Utah, Tennessee, but mostly from the Midwest. We have one Hispanic American. Here's the thing. With one notable exception, all the international students hang with other international students. They may or may not be from the same country, but it appears that their common bond of being foreigners binds them greater than any desire to integrate. We have an extremely active international student union, so successful, in fact, that I feel I miss out on the potential that a diverse cohort offers.
There is a Chinese man in our department. His English is so good that at first, I thought he was Asian American. It floored me to learn that he only learned English 5 years before I met him. It totally caught me off guard when he spoke of how he hated being touched. He particularly hates having his head touched. Americans are rather touchy. When we sit around bitching about things that have happened to us, he invariable includes a story about someone touching him unexpectedly. A salesperson in a store. A graduate student who teasingly tussles his hair. He finds it terribly offensive. Just a little cultural difference that I have come to accept even if I don't understand it. The Chinese student is the only student I know that regularly invites the Americans to his house for parties. The rest of the international students only hang out with other international students.
I find that quite sad. Now, I've accepted that some of the straight-out-of-undergrad grad students (the very early 20-somethings) really don't want to hang out with me. I accept that. I hang with D-friend Bek and somewhat with D-friends Liv and Melissa. I understand the 2-year cycle and realize that students are going to cycle in and out and some cohorts are tighter than others. But I find other cultures incredibly interesting and I ask our international students a lot about their culture and their homes. People usually like to talk about themselves, especially the South Americans.
But I am sorry to say that the students I am most curious about are those from Africa. Several countries in Africa are on my bucket list. I would LOVE to talk to these students about their cultures and their homes. But more than any other students, the African students flat out will not socialize with the rest of us. They don't generally eat lunch with us. They don't go to the international parties. And I have wondered for some time whether this sort of elective segregation is part of their culture. I just don't know and it appears I won't find out.