An athlete, a veggie coop resident, and I walk into a bar: social stereotypes at Macalester

By Eva Kuhn

Dictionary.com defines stereotype as “a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group.” Macalester College prides itself on diffusing stereotypes-the institution’s ideology espouses a mission of acceptance and aims to challenge norms. One may look to the thousands of classes offered that seek to dismantle binaries and dichotomies concerning race, gender, class, etc. We are encouraged, and often forced, to replace our own preconceived notions with lived experience.However, I believe that when it comes to social dynamics, peer-to-peer stereotypes remain very much intact, and worse, often carved out of rigid and false opinions. Outside the classroom, we’re all perfectly happy to buy into the common perception of others and reinforce judgments. I’ve watched this occur most intensely when perceptions of others are unflattering and nasty. And, as we’ve all learned by now, stereotypes usually reproduce if left unchallenged, and transform into fact.

The irony is frightening. I find Macalester students actually choose to think within such contexts instead according to actual interaction. Let’s play word association: if I say baseball house, veggie coop and cultural house, each and every one of you has a string of adjectives and opinions to offer. Although exceptions always remain (I can hear the typing of incensed letters to the editor), the fact remains that most of your adjectives will be similar, your opinions common to the rest of the student body. Guess what-most of what you think is probably wrong and worse, unnecessarily offensive.

There is a reason why stereotypes linger; it’s easier to believe what everyone believes. If you have a social grudge, a bone to pick with that bitch you saw at last night’s party, what better way to make yourself feel better than enthusiastically tell your friends that you knew latte consumption was an indicator of personal morals. People here, privy to intimate and isolated facts but never the whole story, choose to pass these tidbits off for representative truth. I’ve found this especially true when it bolsters a Mean Girls-themed stereotype. I mean, let’s face it, to alter your perception and actually base opinion off truth rather than story is just plain exhausting.

So I challenge everyone, as I myself have been challenged, to stop buying into social stereotypes, build a bridge and get over them. And maybe think before you speak.

Eva Kuhn ’08 can be reached at [email protected]