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Small in Enrollment, Rich in Diversity

While Menlo College may only have 700 students, 56 percent of the student population is composed of students of color — a factor that officials say adds to educational experience for the small campus in Atherton.

Photo courtesy of Menlo College.
Photo courtesy of Menlo College.

Gabby Velazquez experienced a bit of a shock when she first stepped on the campus of Menlo College.

The broad, wide-ranging diverse student body caught her a bit off guard. She came from Latin decent, but when she walked on the soil of the 700-student, private campus in Atherton, she experienced diversity at its core definition: a complicated spider web of different cultures and lifestyles that she, and her fellow students, called college.

That’s one of the things the makes Menlo College unique, according to its administration and student body. Because by being surrounded by numerous diverse viewpoints, students are graduating with a skillset beyond just the things they’re learning in the classroom.

“There are many different people in the world, and not everyone is going to think the way that I think. So I’ve learned to be very understanding of others,” Velazquez said. “That has allowed me to expand my knowledge and my understanding of the variety of people that I will be encountering in the real world outside college.”

To date, 56 percent of Menlo’s student body is composed of students of color, according to the school’s website. Beyond that, 13 percent of its student body are international students, hailing from 24 different countries.

Those numbers are beneficial to students, according to Velazquez. She was familiar with her culture before college, but Menlo was able to expose her to ethnicities that she had never been around before.

“Coming to Menlo was a huge shock getting to know a lot of people from all over the world. We have students from California, from Hawai’i, international students from China and Singapore and just from all over the world,” Velazquez said. “To have all of that come together in a small environment is just great.”

That diversity comes from a top-down approach from administration, said Yasmin Lambie-Simpson, the college’s dean of student affairs. At first, it starts from community outreach and from the direction of University President James Kelly.

"I am trying to increase the percentage of international students on campus," Kelly said in a statement released by the university. "I believe that a broadly diverse student body enriches the learning environment. I am proud to belong to an academic community that historically has embraced diversity."

Administrators have done their part to create a diverse experience for students as well. There are 50 active clubs and organizations on campus, 11 of which have a cultural affiliation. Clubs range from the Asian Club, to the Hawai’i Club to the Jewish Student Club.

“I believe that it’s interwoven in Menlo’s appreciation,” Lambie-Simpson said. “There’s a certain element of social educational programming that we do through student affairs and academic affairs.”

“I think it’s a wonderful part of who we are,” she said.

Students feel the same way. In class, professors encourage dialogue between all different backgrounds, teaching Velazquez and her fellow classmates to be tolerant of more than just their way of thinking.

In all, it’s just one of the many benefits of being in a rich, diverse student body. 

“Having everyone be in one small place, that just allows us to get to know more about each other,” Velazquez said. “And experiencing that while still in college, learning how to deal with it, process it and accept it is very invaluable to our education, not only as students but as humans as well.” 

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