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So I am completing the application for UCSB, and they ask me to write a Personal Achievements/Contributions Statement, however, I feel I have nothing to say, since I have never experienced anything like examples they give. So what should be talked about in this kind of essay except examples they give?

Here is what on their application:

Personal Achievements/Contributions Statement

UC Santa Barbara is interested in a diverse and inclusive graduate student population. Please describe any aspects of your personal background, accomplishments, or achievements that you feel are important in evaluating your application for graduate study.

For example, please describe if you have experienced economic challenges in achieving higher education, such as being financially responsible for family members or dependents, having to work significant hours during undergraduate schooling or coming from a family background of limited income.

Please describe if you have any unusual or varied life experiences that might contribute to the diversity of the graduate group, such as fluency in other languages, experience living in bicultural communities, academic research interests focusing on cultural, societal, or educational problems as they affect underserved segments of society, or evidence of an intention to use the graduate degree toward serving disadvantaged individuals or populations.

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    possible duplicate of What do admission committees look for in a diversity essay? – Nate Eldredge Dec 4 '14 at 22:42
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    Whatever they decide to call it, this is commonly known as a "diversity statement." – ff524 Dec 4 '14 at 23:53
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    I think this is not a duplicate, because this is asking how to respond if you are not from an underprivileged background. – jakebeal Dec 5 '14 at 0:56
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    Can you just answer honestly, and write something like "Nope, I am as privileged as they come, and my research interests are completely unrelated to social justice"? – Ben Bitdiddle Dec 5 '14 at 3:18
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    @BenBitdiddle Sure, you can always answer like that. You should expect that to doom your app with plenty of schools and advisors though. It doesn't matter how privileged you are or what you plan to study--everyone can contribute something toward making academia more inclusive and diverse, even if it's just learning how you can use your privilege to be an ally for those with less. I'm always happy to consider prospective students who aren't from diverse/disadvantaged backgrounds themselves if they're aware of their privilege and conscientious about advocacy. I just admitted one for next year. – Dandan Apr 2 at 6:15
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I agree with the other answerer in that some self-examination will probably yield many ways in which you have overcome adversity or worked to support others from diverse backgrounds.

But here's another angle that's worth considering: Why does the university require a diversity statement in the first place? You'll encounter many forms of diversity at a large, public university like UCSB, where there is a substantial population of international students, federal student aid recipients, students with family/work obligations, and so on, and the school wants to know how you expect to integrate into the diverse community at the target university and how you believe interacting with a diverse student population will help you grow in your career and as a person.

Therefore, you don't have to "be" diverse (how can any individual be diverse?) to help foster a diverse, inclusive campus climate. I found this diversity statement from a faculty application written by an Asian American to be very successful, even though the author makes no mention of his personal background, focusing instead on the things he has done to support diverse students and explaining why he thinks diversity is a good thing:

I believe that diversity is fundamentally the relationship between a community’s distribution along a multitude of dimensions (e.g., physical traits, interests, cultures) and that of of the general population. I am strongly in favor of a diverse community that samples broadly from the general population. From a selfish perspective, it lets me learn from a variety of different, strange, and interesting people. From a larger perspective, it creates a robust community that is immune to "jumping on the band-wagon", and, as the UC diversity statement notes, it is "the source of innovative ideas and creative accomplishments".

In a case like yours, I would recommend being honest about your blind spots and expressing your interest in learning more about people from other backgrounds. What was it like to grow up and attend college within a homogeneous community? What challenges do you expect to face as you transition to the target university, and how will you overcome them? What are the characteristics of the university's community that attract you to studying there? Bonus points if you can name specific student organizations, courses, or other features of the university that align with these goals.


On the flip side, it's worth pointing out that writing a diversity statement isn't necessarily any easier for those who are from "diverse" backgrounds. A diversity statement that simply enumerates one's demographic characteristics without reflecting on the meaning and importance of diversity can ring hollow. And there is a danger in invoking false parallels, i.e. assuming "Because I am from marginalized community X, I understand the challenges faced by those from marginalized community Y."

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It's pretty likely you've experienced a lot more diversity than you realize. Consider:

  • Have you always been surrounded by people sharing the same ethnic majority as you?
  • Have you ever experienced another culture beyond simply eating at taco bell and panda express?
  • Have you ever spent time learning about a friend's culture? This includes European cultures like Irish, French, Italian, German, Polish, etc. (I only named the major ones for condensation.)
  • Have you ever helped with social justice causes beyond being a follower in slacktivism?
  • Have you ever stood up for someone who was being treated unfairly due to being different be it a disabled person, a minority person or a LBGT person?

Let me give an example of four things I would identify with myself that could be mentioned in this section:

  1. I am half Lithuanian and keep many of the traditions in question, especially regarding food, which is valued in my culture, alive.
  2. I have Autism and have both suffered discrimination myself, and have fought to end discrimination.
  3. I have friends who are trans and/or gay and fight for their rights. I have strong empathy for this particular group due to the fact that they too are expected to hide who they are.
  4. I am a strong believer on solidarity political theory and have strongly pushed to assert it over convention Identity Politics.

Depending on what I would feel the place in question would expect, depends which of these I would include.

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    I wouldn't include "I have strong emphathy", "I am a strong believer". Everybody would say this when asked. Most people want the world to be a place with less discrimination. But what's important is what you do, not what you think. – user111388 Apr 30 at 7:18
  • What exactly do you mean by "you've never even stood up..." For example, I would not include "I stood up for my LGBT neighbor who was treated bad at the market" because this seems to pathetic (only once occurribg situation in private life). I don't think most people can say they stood up for LGBT rights more often. – user111388 Apr 30 at 7:21
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    In response to a flag, I made a few choice word changes here to really lighten the pseudo-accusatory tone of the post. If you dislike, please strongly consider how to revise the original post instead of simply reverting. – eykanal Apr 30 at 20:49

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