How to Write a Diversity Statement
Broadly speaking, your diversity statement has two parts: your experience, and what you took from it.
Below are some more specific tips.
1. Don’t speak for your group; speak for yourself.
Being Mexican American is a valid diversity factor, but it’s not a specific topic. Don’t write about “the” Mexican American experience; write about your experience. The same goes for any essay about race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, etc.
If you faced adversity, write about it. But your diversity statement doesn’t have to be an adversity statement. “Majority Minority” is a great example of an essay that decouples minority status from hardship.
2. Tell us what it’s about in the first paragraph.
Your first paragraph can be either anecdotal or direct. An anecdotal opening means that you tell a short story which pin-points your experience. “Identity Carousel” begins this way:
Wrapping up the day’s math lesson, I asked the class if there were any questions. “Yea. Mr. Frank,” said a boy I’ll call Jeremy. “For real, why you always talk like the white people?”
The story encapsulates the narrator’s dilemma: some members of the black community see him as too white.
A direct intro entails a succinct statement in which you state your topic. “Homeschool” begins with a direct intro:
When I was fourteen years old, my mother gave me the choice of being homeschooled or attending a public high school. My older brother had shuddered at the thought of being associated with the stereotype of socially awkward, unfashionable “homeschool kids.” However, I saw the idea of spending my days at home as a challenge and an opportunity.
3. Make sure all the circumstances are clear.
In the first draft of “Taking Care Of My Sister,” the narrator tells us, “As the oldest sibling, I took on the parental role before my sister was a one-year-old.” But she doesn’t make it clear why she had to take on that role. In the final draft, she explains that her immigrant parents worked long hours in factories, leaving her in charge.
4. Try anchoring the story of your heritage or identity to a specific moment.
The writer of “Armenian Heritage,” for example, anchors the story of his heritage to a trip that he took to Baku during which he reconnected with his Armenian roots.
5. Back up your main assertions with specific details.
In the first draft of “Homeschool,” the narrator wrote, “Being entrusted to guide my own education gave me self-confidence and taught me to become more independent.” But she didn’t illustrate that point. By the last draft, she gave some examples: “I would work backwards, step by step, to find my mistake in a math equation or track down an explanation for a French grammar rule.”
6. State what you gained from your experience in the last or penultimate paragraph.
I learned how to be my own teacher and to identify my strengths and weaknesses. Homeschooling also helped me be creative and analytical in ways that a more traditional education might not have.
I attribute my success to the values my parents instilled by example: hard work and grit.
7. Keep it optimistic.
The first draft of “Rugby” ends: “Income invariably plays an insidious sinister role. It’s a damn shame.”
You too might believe that America is plagued with intractable problems, and you might be right. You may feel angry and combative, and you’re justified in feeling so. But your diversity statement is a place for optimism. Think Disney, not HBO: “I have a unique perspective,” not “I can see that this country is fucked.”
You have more leeway on your diversity statement than you do on your personal statement.
Three paragraphs is probably enough. You can write a full-length essay if the school’s application permits you to. I’d encourage you to skew short, though.
Format your diversity statement the same way you format your personal statement, but the last line of your header should read “Diversity Statement” instead of “Personal Statement.”
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