Five Examples of the UT-Austin Diversity Short Answer

Track and field day at my former Malaysian high school

Track and field day at my former Malaysian high school

Of UT-Austin’s three new short answers, this question is the most different and may perhaps cause the most stumbles. In 250-300 words, all first-time freshman applicants must answer:

Please share how you believe your experiences, perspectives, and/or talents have shaped your ability to contribute to and enrich the learning environment at UT Austin, both in and out of the classroom.

Although this topic is new, I’ve selected previous submissions without altering them of students who answered related UT or other university prompts. Each of the following examples responds perfectly to the prompt. Since my clients and I work on integrating diverse perspectives throughout the application, they were easy to find.

I think white and Asian students or those who haven’t experienced any obvious hardship or setbacks may be intimidated by this prompt. Although UT doesn’t come out and say it directly, they want you to discuss directly how your previous experiences and identities (i.e. perspectives) will enrich the learning environment (i.e. bring diversity).

Two examples below make a strong case for Asian and Asian-American students to not shy away from their experiences, perspectives, or talents. I also showcase how, even if you’re white, there is much more to identity than race and ethnicity. It’s also possible to adopt a new identity or perspective through veganism, for example, or learning a new language.

Each of these essays is thoughtful, nuanced, and interesting. Many of them expand upon and provide context to their resume. I think there is food for thought here for anyone struggling with addressing this prompt.

Rural, low-income school

I’ve witnessed so many intelligent and capable classmates at my Title I school fall through the cracks because they didn’t have the resources to succeed. Many of my classmates here in rural East Texas come from chaotic homes, don’t have the money for tutors or even school supplies, and it’s hard to see any possibilities beyond our community. It’s troubled me so much to watch others struggle that I proposed and founded a volunteer after-school tutoring program, Cosmo Scholars.

Cosmos is a free resource for students to receive extra help studying for classes and standardized exams. With the support of administrators and teachers, Cosmos has expanded immensely. We’ve only been around for a short time, but campus officials allow any student students from every MPISD campus to attend. Sometimes, parents from other districts message me to get help for their kids. While it may seem unbelievable that one program could affect an entire community, I truly believe that Cosmo Scholars has the potential to dramatically reduce the number of struggling students in the surrounding area.

I spend countless hours recruiting talented students in the community to tutor. I organize schedules, assign tutors to shifts, and put out the occasional fires that happen when unexpected mishaps arise. Now that I have more experience running an organization, I have ideas to improve our program, make it run more smoothly, and hopefully connect even more tutors with students this upcoming year.

Most importantly, several underclassmen have stepped up to take on leadership positions in the upcoming years ensuring Cosmo Scholars continues long after I leave Mount Pleasant. At UT, I hope to continue providing tutoring services pro bono and influence others to do the same. Education is a universal human right, and I’ll do my part to continue building a more supportive community.

Commentary

White students may also be intimidated by this prompt. Again, race and ethnicity is one factor of a factor of a factor in any given application. I’ve selected this example because although the student is white and from a well-off and educated family, they live in a rural community attending an underperforming public high school. Diversity means more than race and ethnicity.

Rural students and those living in small cities are very underrepresented on UT-Austin’s and elite universities’ campuses. I appreciate how this student thoughtfully engages with their community and is acutely aware of larger social forces that contribute to dysfunction common in low-resource communities whether rural or urban.

They’re not merely diagnosing a problem though. They’ve identified an issue and created a student organization to do their part to decrease the achievement gap. Since their family comes from means, this student communicates their ability to contribute in ways others may be unable. It’s very easy to imagine them bringing valuable perspectives to UT’s campus and working with students who come from communities where many fall through the cracks.

Navigating Asian-American Identity

It was happening again. My dad and I were getting schooled in pick-up basketball. “Those old Asian men ball pretty hard,” I thought. Falling behind on another fast break, drenched in sweat and fighting for air, I grumbled to my dad, “Man, I’m out of shape.”

It was just another Saturday morning with my dad, brother and I at our stuffy gym attached to the Raleigh Chinese School. We come to play basketball and usually lose against guys three times my age, but on the other side of the gym, people my grandparents’ age gracefully flow to traditional Chinese music: the art of Tai Chi.

During my first visit, I watched entranced by their rhythmic movements. It seemed fitting that our basketball court was divided evenly between the quintessentially American game of basketball and one of the most traditional styles of Chinese martial arts. I felt my attention torn between both.

Nearly all Asian-American communities struggle with identity, some even challenging the label Asian-American. As a young child, my family transitioned from the Raleigh Chinese Church to a predominantly white place of worship, thrusting me into a social environment where I wasn’t comfortable. They spoke differently, joked differently, and even dressed differently.

Within the Taiwanese-American and Chinese-American communities, an oft-used indicator of how “Asian” someone is, is one’s mastery of Chinese. I grew up in a household that spoke Chinese regularly. I attended Chinese school, and at the age of two, I could hold a conversation in Chinese. I was the poster child for a good Asian child.

However, when I was five, my brother was born deaf and struggled with English. Our household began transitioning from Chinese to English. I lost my knack for the language, and now I admittedly struggle to put together a coherent sentence.

For many years, I felt the pressure to choose one side of my identity or the other, but I realize I don’t need to choose between basketball and tai chi. Being Asian-American holds a certain beauty and richness, allowing me to connect with people of vastly different backgrounds.

Commentary

I’ve repurposed and condensed this student’s Common Application essay that contributed to their Early Decision admission to Duke. Like with the first sample in this post, this student and I discussed the degree that they should discuss their identity and background. They enthusiastically wanted to share the dilemmas and obstacles they’ve navigated, and I supported their decision fully.

I appreciate this essay because it brings nuance to the Asian-American identity. Like any identity, it isn’t homogeneous or flat. There are layers of complexity worth peeling. One racially Chinese student may have a totally different lived experience than their Chinese classmate for the reasons this essay mentions: relationship to their mother tongue; religious practices; whether born in the US or in their native country; connections to their home country; perceptions within the Chinese-American community.

They utilize an outstanding juxtaposition throughout with basketball symbolizing American culture and Tai Chi for Chinese. Weaving these themes through a relatable story brings their essay alive. Instead of seeing their background has somehow disadvantageous, they share a thoughtful analysis of their childhood and present reconciliation of their identity.

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Human Rights Advocacy

In my Contemporary Issues class, I proposed that our group present the environmental and health benefits of veganism for our documentary final. We produced a video of our team visiting the top-rated vegan restaurants in Austin and rating the food. I filtered by Yelp, drove our team to the restaurants, and we filmed and edited together. We envisioned presenting veganism in a non-threatening way.

I am aware that people can be turned off by aggressive and angry pieces documenting serious animal cruelty issues. Scaring people doesn’t motivate them to reconsider their habits. Instead, our lighthearted documentary of friends sharing yummy food at restaurants, which we also brought for our classmates, was well received.

I increased my involvement and passion for Spanish language and culture by running for and eventually being elected as Spanish Club Secretary. The other officers and I are already planning cultural events and activities for the coming year, and I couldn’t be more excited. We plan to host Tango and Salsa Latin dance classes and Spanish food days. We’re organizing a trip to Fiesta in San Antonio.

I intend to introduce new service projects like volunteering to cook dinner at Casa Marianella, a local immigrant shelter. I also want to introduce volunteering as a group at Inside Books, a program that fills prisoner’s requests for books. We could use our Spanish language skills to answer letters from Spanish-speaking prisoners.

I will continue advocating for refugees and social justice issues at UT. I’m interested in contributing to the Liberal Arts Refugee Alliance of Texas, supporting refugee resettlement in Central Texas. Humanity First Texas Chapter and Generation United Nations will help me continue serving and learning about future career pathways. I hope to strengthen my leadership skills and advance the cause of global human rights.

Commentary

Unlike the previous samples, this essay takes a totally different approach. They focus on their identity as a vegan and an advocate. Discussing a plant-based diet ties directly into their concerns for climate change and living sustainably. Identities like veganism can be something that you adopt and not bound to your race, gender, or nationality. These contribute to diverse perspectives in the classroom and community.

Conversations regarding human rights often seem abstract or issues that only occur “out there” in “other countries.” On the contrary, there is a great need for civil liberties advocacy in communities throughout Texas. This student clearly demonstrates that they’ve made a concerted effort to navigate complex issues and find how they can help alleviate suffering.

That the student is white and not only speaks Spanish but conducts outreach in local Spanish-speaking communities. It’s a perfect example of cross-cultural connections that can happen at home without taking costly trips abroad. They cover a lot of territory in their essay and portray their myriad interests and identities with maturity. It took us a lot of work to tie together these seemingly unrelated themes, but this response along with their other essays presented an especially thoughtful applicant to reviewers.

Farming and Animal Empathy

Trust me, I would much rather spend my time participating in the typical suburbanite activities like gymnastics, music lessons, or maybe even yoga. However, as the daughter of a trailer tycoon, my evening pastimes include shaking buckets of ironically-cylindrical cattle cubes, leading the cattle into their pen and pacing myself, so the cattle walk quickly but don’t stampede. It surprises me that others haven’t considered that cows have personalities just like dogs or cats.

Blue, our massive Brahma bull, would walk up behind me and duck his head under my arm so I could pet and give him attention. The first couple of times he approached, I fled to safety fearing I encroached on his territory. Each time, however, he followed me to the fence and looked at me longingly with his fluttering amber eyes. Eventually, I accepted his invitation. His calves share his friendly demeanor whereas calves from other bulls tended to shy away. Blue soon became one of my closest friends, and I made sure he got all the love and attention he deserved.

My grandfather shared his love of animals with my mother who passes down to me her dedication to the well-being of four-legged creatures of all shapes and sizes. As a vet, my grandfather confided with me that his patients were typically very kind and courteous. Their humans caused the problems. My mom, sister, and I probably go a little bit overboard sharing his compassion for animals, but we just can’t say no to whichever animal in need wanders onto our property.

We currently home six dogs and two cats as permanent residents. Countless more temporary guests have made their mark on our family over the years. Thankfully we live in a rural area where the dogs can roam, and the cats can scamper about. I must admit that when confronted by the “What is your spirit animal” question; I don’t hesitate to answer that my obese cat Felix embodies what I enjoy most – napping and free food. I’ve spent my entire life around animals. I credit them for making me more empathetic, loyal, and understanding.

Commentary

Empathy extends beyond human social issues. A concern for animals and all sentient beings is an incredibly value perspective worth sharing. Naturally, if this student hadn’t grown up on a farm, they almost surely wouldn’t have bonded with animals like cows who we often overlook or presume to lack emotions or feelings.

Stylistically, they write with wit and charm. Supplying visual language and painting a picture for a reviewer makes one’s essay more relatable, believable, authentic, and interesting. It’s also likely their reviewer had never interacted with cows for any length of time (I know I haven’t). Some of the best essay submissions are those that present points of view I haven’t concerned as a reviewer.

They also tie their concerns for animals with their family background to introduce an additional layer of nuance. It’s easy to imagine them caring for stray cats or wayward squirrels on the Forty Acres. I once worked with a transfer student who wrote thoughtfully about the dozens of dogs their family has fostered. Diversity and empathy expand well beyond conventional boundaries.

Teaching Dance Lessons

After dancing for five years, my shyness wore off, my confidence grew, and I wanted to bring that to others. My most memorable moment as an instructor occurred this summer. A 5-year-old girl, Ariana, auditioned to join, and she clearly had a natural talent for dance.

Once the class started, however, I learned that Ariana was very timid, which reflected in her dancing. As the youngest in the class, she felt isolated. I wanted to see her shine, so I gave her a little more attention during classes, and after eight weeks, she had finally become more confident.

The following week, my head instructor and I tried an activity in which pairs of kids tried choreographing. Ariana immediately walked over to me. I still remember that feeling of satisfaction as she held my hand, smiled up at me, and told me she wanted to be my partner. I was so delighted that she trusted me enough to be comfortable with me.

As we choreographed together, that joyful feeling grew. Ariana was completely confident in expressing what choreography that she wanted to do, and said more in those 20 minutes than she had the entire time she had been at the studio.

After we finished, we performed the choreography for the whole class, and Ariana, although she told me she was nervous, was completely confident while performing. I remember looking over at her mom afterward, who was watching us, and sharing a smile with her because we were both so proud of her.

Commentary

Although it isn’t explicitly mention in this essay, the student shared in others their commitment and passion for Indian Classical Dancing. It also isn’t necessary to tie their dancing interests to ethnicity or culture. It’s more than enough to put forward mentorship as one aspect of identity and write a thoughtful essay about connecting with young children.

Their experience teaching dance is valuable and worth sharing. They illustrate a progression of growth both on behalf of a timid-turned-brave student and the applicant’s own patience and investment in the growth of their budding dancer. There is a balance between time spent discussing Ariana and the applicant’s feelings and perspectives.

This submission also demonstrates that it is more than possible to tell a thoughtful story in 300 words or less. There is a clear introduction, phase of growth and development in the middle, and a conclusion that ties things up neatly with reference to the student’s mother.

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Kevin MartinEssays