ADCOM Q&A: Why our program?

by Lorien E. Menhennett

racial diversityA dear friend of mine is Muslim, and is currently fasting for Ramadan. The last couple of weeks, I have learned so much about this period of fasting, as well as other aspects of Muslim culture and religion. This morning, I was sharing some of my new-found knowledge with my mom. I told her I was so thankful to have this wonderful friend, and to be exposed to another culture. “I only wish I had a more diverse group of friends!” I told her. Then it hit me: my closest friends in the Chicago area, the ones I actually hang out with and see on a regular basis, ARE indeed very diverse. I just don’t think of them that way, if that makes sense – when I see my friends, I see them as people, not as a different skin color or ethnic background. In fact, none of my closest friends here are white. (Not that I’m prejudiced against my own skin color, and I have plenty of white friends, but they’re not the ones I spend the most time with.) One of my best friends here is Indian by ethnicity but South African by geography, another is Latino, another is half black and half Polish, another is Nigerian, and my Muslim friend has roots in Pakistan and India. Talk about a diverse crowd.

I thank my parents for helping me see people as people, not as a skin color or ethnic background. You see, I was raised going to an African-American church in the inner city of Chicago. At this amazing Baptist church, there were two white families who regularly attended. The vast majority of my friends there were black. I went to their houses, and they to mine. Their families came over for dinner. We had picnics together on the lake. This did not at all seem strange to me.

So having a diverse crowd of friends now doesn’t seem odd, either. And clearly, as I was talking with my mom about my current group of friends, I even forgot that we are all “different” by race and ethnicity. Not that I don’t appreciate, or celebrate, our differences. I enjoy learning about my friends’ backgrounds, cultures, languages, etc. I simply don’t see them as “other,” to use the anthropological term. They are people, and I love them for who they are.

Which brings me to my ADCOM Q&A for the day: What drew you to our program?

Of course, my answer to this question would be multifaceted. I would talk about the medical school curriciulum, the laboratory opportunities, and so on. But one thing I also want to be able to say about this question, one thing that I want in a medical school, is that it offers a diverse environment, hopefully both in terms of its student body and the surrounding community.

I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t enjoy the company of people who share my own skin color. As I said, I have close friends who are white as well. And there is diversity to be found within the same skin color, if you think about it – diversity in religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and ancestry, as well as seemingly less important (but actually significant, I think) factors such as music tastes, food preferences, that sort of thing.

My point is that differences, as well as similarities, should be celebrated. I look forward to celebrating all of those things in my future as an MD/PhD student.

Diversity should not divide us; diversity should unite us. I firmly believe this.