The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Diversity of student body reveals true CSUN spirit

There’s more about CSUN that I dislike than I like. There. I’ve said it.

I think I devote a 700-word space on these grey pages every week to what I don’t like about this institution, so I’m not keen to do it again today.

But to refresh your memory: no one has any school pride, students either care a lot or don’t care at all about their education, school officials have tolerated abysmal six-year graduation rates as Princeton-caliber fantastic for too long, academic advising is done for students by other students, and all of my “accomplishments” feel somehow railroaded by wave of illegitimacy. Want an added bonus? CSU officials seem to enjoy not having any money, or at least their laissez-faire attitude says that much about them.

So those are the big ones.

Why did I come here? I forget. I honestly don’t remember. I think it had something to do with being a film and television major or something, but it’s all kind of blurry now.

But why did I stay? Why didn’t I transfer?

All I needed to answer that question, which I’ve asked myself about 589 times since August 2002, was something I could tell my family and friends back home about CSUN to justify my staying in Southern California at a school that affords me other fun opportunities because its academic side is not that impressive.

One word: diversity.

CSUN’s diversity has been the one thing I’ve been continuously impressed by since arriving more than three years ago. It’s what I tell my friends about back home in Chicago when they ask what my school is like. It’s one of two things I respond with when they ask me, “If you hate it so much, why do you stay there?”

I graduated in 2002 from a private Catholic all-male college prep high school in suburban Chicago in a predominantly white, Irish Catholic neighborhood. Needless to say, in a school of about 1,600 students, I think about six were black. Maybe 11 were Latino, if that. I honesty can’t remember an Asian American student. A Middle Eastern-born student might have been floating around, but he didn’t stand out.

Women were obviously nowhere to be seen. All of the students there were from that upper-middle class background that was a just a little humble and a little bit spoiled. There were some liberally minded students, but a lot of them were their parents’ children: conservative, contained and quasi-religious. It got worse after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

CSUN couldn’t be further from that twisted version of education. When I found out that whites were less than 40 percent of the student body on orientation day, I was shocked. The first person who talked to me during orientation was a black guy who happened to be a film major just like me. One of my orientation leaders, a biracial guy with one white parent and one Latino parent, was openly gay. I spent my lunch playing the “Spot the White Guy Who Looks Like Me” game because it so damn hard!

I didn’t love all this diversity at first. I wasn’t mature enough to recognize how important this was to my life until much later. I wasn’t a racist or anything back then, but I certainly wasn’t used to this new world. That quickly changed.

I live in the dorms, which is about as diverse a small community as a person can get at CSUN. For so many of my paranoid neighbors in Chicago, living next to a black or Mexican family meant one thing: an alleged drop in property value.

My parents didn’t think of things in terms of that, at least intentionally, but it was always a concern of white suburbia. But within a semester I got one Salvadorian roommate and another from Holland. Crazy!

It’s easy to learn a lot about people when we all live and work in the same place. Working in student clubs and organizations, as well as in classes, with people who don’t look, sound or think like me has been an eye-opener in almost every way. It’s taught me that what unites young people is much more tangible than intangible.

Either because I was forced or because this place is so great, I’ve stopped noticing when I’m in a public place and I’m the only white guy. I’ve started to notice when a room or a discussion is homogeneous, because it bores me.

A room full of white kids talking about Islamic extremist and terrorism, like what happened at my high school, was less than enthralling.

Because what holds us all together, besides our curiosity about our world and how we can interact in it, is simple at CSUN, and it’s at the core of our diversity:

How many decades will it take me to graduate? And will I still get financial aid?

Ryan Denham can be reached at

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