College is about belonging. Students come, often as freshman, not knowing where they fit in, what career paths to take, or what decisions to make to survive their first semester. Along the way, students are put in groups by the choices they make
Grouping provides an explanation as to why people act or look a certain way. This does not always work. Often a label comes with a stereotype, which does not apply to everyone.
“I think most regular students think that athletes get everything handed to them and it’s definitely not true,” said sophomore communication studies major Dylan Garrity.
Sociology professor Aya Ida said the Social Identity Theory states people use groups to establish identities. Being in a group makes people feel valued and accepted by peers. One group values itself while discriminating against another.
People in society split into “us’ and “them” categories. The group of people who value themselves are an ingroup (us) and the ones looked down on are outgroups (them). Creating outgroups makes the ingroup feel superior, thus enhancing its self-esteem.
Instead of trying to understand people, we give them a label without knowing them. This requires no extra thinking and makes it easier for people to pinpoint who is the same and who is different. However, this can backfire when the label does not fit a certain person in a group.
“By having these group distinctions, we tend to believe that there are huge differences between (groups) and that can result in negative stereotypes,” Ida said. “We feel like we know who they are, but we don’t really know.”
In college, students are exposed to various groups of people. There are students with different religions, hometowns and backgrounds. Instead of labeling, people should embrace the differences, because not everyone is lucky enough to experience diversity.
Picking a major creates groups of students in similar fields of study. Other students choose labels by participating in clubs and activities on campus. Clubs give labels based on race, interests, majors or skills. People who enjoy science are “geeks” and people who want to save the environment are “hippies.”
Sororities and fraternities are usually given negative stereotypes; both members are seen as attractive and popular, but not very smart. College life in a Greek club is a huge party that includes sex, drugs and drinking all the time. Anyone part of a sorority or fraternity is presumed to like partying.
“I am kind of a quiet, more reserved person which goes against the sorority girl stereotype and people who don’t really know me are surprised to find that I’m actually in a sorority,” said junior biological sciences major Deborah Powers.
However, not everyone categorizes. Sometimes people ignore the stereotypes and make friends based on personality. Others don’t use looks as way to define someone. Occasionally, people go to college to get a degree and are not worried about what other students do.
“I never really identified myself with a certain clique or stereotype because I don’t really think there’s a reason you need to – but that’s just me,” said junior psychology major Justin Anderson.
Students are not the only ones participating in school labeling. Movies and television shows depict college as a never-ending party. New articles talk about hazing incidents gone wrong, leading people to believe many college students binge drink and party.
It is because of the media’s portrayal that people think negatively about certain groups. Stereotyping needs to stop because not only are college students affected, but younger children get these views planted in their minds as well.
Putting people in groups is sometimes a natural occurrence—such as identifying someone by race—but people need to be aware when the labeling is harmful. Students can lessen the stereotypical labeling by getting to know people in fraternities and sororities before they make judgments.
Labels hinder people from knowing true personalities and it only gets worse when applied to race and gender. Students are in college to learn; they can help the world move forward in society by accepting differences instead of exploiting them.
Shanel can be reached at: email@example.com