Opinion column: Open your mind

By Alex Dunkel

As our youth floods back to campus, there are many issues in the world that detract from the changes happening in our lives. This isn’t to say that politics, recent wars, the Olympics and other events are unimportant and that we should ignore them. The point is that in order for us to grasp world events and find their relevance, we need to come to grips with experiences that shape our window to the world. National polls – a favorite tool for swaying the public – might smooth over differences by averaging out the views of Americans, but the truth is, different environments and experiences produce different points of view.

The United States may tout itself as a global mixing pot of cultures, but let’s face it: People clump together in groups, and new ideas are difficult to spread in tightly knit communities. Instead of treating everyone as a homogenous mixture of alternative viewpoints, everyone should focus their attention on the subcultures of this campus. The events that will unfold during this upcoming school year will reach out and touch everyone’s lives in one way or another. In response , words and ideas will be exchanged in all forums, including this paper and will stir strong emotions. People need to move beyond their gut reactions and learn to understand all of the people whom they share their lives and this world with. To start upon this road tounderstanding, it’s best to examine the diverse community we find ourselves a part of.

Because the University is an educational institution, our focus first falls on students, who give meaning to all that happens here. Again, we welcome our freshmen, who come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have grown up in lively urban areas while others have grown up in less-exciting rural communities. Some are Illinois residents while others are from other states. Still others have traveled in from any one of the six habitable continents that dot our planet’s surface. It’s impossible to summarize the backgrounds of such a diverse community, which only individual interaction adequately can explore.

Our returning students, though equally diverse, differ mostly in college experience. Some still are looking down the long road to graduation while others just need to struggle through two more semesters. In this we see the common bonds that all students share regardless of background – the drive to graduate and get the heck out of here.

The more-premanent residents of this community are the faculty and staff of the University, as well as the local Champaign-Urbana population. With the start of the new academic year, our faculty have their own challenges ahead of them. Some are fighting for tenure while others are trying to stay afloat with the classes they teach, their research and their publications. The campus staff, on the other hand, live lives that the majority of our students are preparing for. Though they may be plodding through their work day, they can teach a lot about what the working world has in store. Finally, the residents of Champaign-Urbana offer a blend of the rural and urban lifestyles. All students have to do is stray off campus to learn more about what makes the rest of the community tick.

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After exploring the local community, our minds should be more open to new arguments and points of view. This is what accomplishes compromise and peace, rather than the hard-headedness and resentment that’s poisoning our world. As everyone knows, recent events in the world are creating a large rift, both nationally and internationally. If we continue to live in our own microcosm, these rifts will only result in more hostility, bloodshed, wars and terrorism. Everyone should take some time to open up and explore this community, which represents a small sample of our global community. Doing so hopefully will create a new perspective and perhaps encourage some constructive dialog between others. Most importantly, though, it may help everyone understand a bit more about themselves.