In his international politics class, Professor Robert Gray likes to ask students to discuss their earliest political memories. For many American students, it might be something such as the time their mother or father took them to a polling place to witness voting up close.
But Gray recalls one Pakistani student who recounted political unrest in his country, while an Indian student remembered the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
His international students' perspectives force the American students to re-evaluate their own experiences and to appreciate the experiences of others.
These differences among students go beyond specific memories, however, to broader experiences of the world, where students of diverse backgrounds offer fresh perspectives on issues such as decolonization or the aftermath of World War II and more, depending on their own lives and previous education.
Students who thought they knew the history of these periods could end up being surprised, or having their ideas challenged by those who actually lived among people who had experienced certain events directly.
And that is both the beauty and challenge of the liberal arts approach-maintaining a diverse population of students whose interactions provide almost as much educational benefit as that found in the classroom.
"Part of a liberal arts education is seeing the world from different perspectives-perspectives of time, culture, nation, region, race, ideology and social class," Gray says. "If most of the students are from the same region, race, and social class, that task is much harder."
And the only way to realize the full potential of these different perspectives is to fling open F&M's doors to all qualified candidates, providing financial assistance to those who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford to attend.
"Having intellectually engaged students is vital to a top liberal arts college," says Gray, who has taught at F&M for nearly 40 years. "Students can learn a great deal from talking with one another about the material assigned in a course. Obviously, they will learn more from discussions with fellow students who are intelligent, intellectually curious and perceptive. ...Having students from different backgrounds in class enhances our efforts to make sense of life experiences."