As students at the University and colleges nationwide await decision letters from graduate schools, medical schools, dental schools and more, another population of Americans vies for acceptance. This group is represented by every demographic and equally hurtful to every person affected. From blacks to Latinos, from immigrants to Native Americans and from teenagers to senior citizens, stereotypes are as prevalent as they are inaccurate.
Citing examples of common stereotypes would be inappropriate because even some students at the University would chuckle at rather than chastise the generalities. A stereotype is nothing more than a generality about an entire group based on the behavior of a small sample. The University is diverse enough to fall victim to some of these closed minded perspectives.
The University serves merely as a microcosm of the nation, with students on campus covering the entire spectrum of categories such as race, religion, political views, family income, sexual orientation, academic major and more. Unfortunately, as does the nation, the University at times chooses to socially exile groups and form factions of condescending like-minded elitists.
Dining halls on campus present a great case study. Every student, regardless of religion or race, needs to eat. Therefore, dining halls serve as the diversity hubs of the University. However, tables within the dining halls tell a different tale. Sometimes tables are shared by students who look eerily similar. Often, athletes sit with teammates, sorority and fraternity members sit with their Greek Life sisters and brothers and science majors sit with science majors. Too many groups on campus are guilty of this tendency to list each one, and these groups may justify their selection of dining mates by reasoning that these are the people with whom they spend the most time. This truth only serves to expose rather than explain the dilemma.
A student will gravitate towards people who he or she feels that they can relate to, and subsequently become close friends with people most similar to themselves. This is human nature. However, when comfort zones are not challenged, individuals might find themselves enveloped in social circles full of people who think, dress, talk and behave identically. This unison may be comforting, but it is definitely a disservice to all members involved.
Engaging with people who possess contrasting interests or beliefs teaches lessons. The most tangible lesson learned is knowledge about unfamiliar cultures and lifestyles. This information serves a dual purpose as it deters ignorance about certain topics. Intangible lessons are perhaps far more valuable. Interacting with people from different backgrounds and distinct points of view broaden an individual’s perspective and understanding about the alternate viewpoint. A Democrat debating with a Republican about birth control may be unable to convince his or her contemporary to shift political allegiance, but they can at least teach each other to respectfully disagree and accept the opposing argument as valid.
These lessons are the first step to confronting and eliminating stereotypes because they not only teach that proclaiming rash generalizations about a group of people is wrong, but they also enlighten individuals that the foundation of the entire stereotype is false.
It is time to preach and practice acceptance.