There are 10 schools within GW that offer undergraduate degrees, and each one comes with stereotypes and judgements about the students within them. As a student in the Elliott School of International Affairs, I’ve had my fair share of stereotypes to overcome. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard, “You’re in Elliott? You don’t seem like an Elliott kid,” I’d be able to pay all four years of tuition.
But someone’s school and major is only one aspect of who they are. College is hard enough as students struggle to figure out what they want to do in the future. The last thing we need is other people second-guessing whether or not we belong in the major we have chosen. Stereotyping students based on the school they take classes in is a practice that needs to stop. We are each different with unique combinations of interests and deserve to be seen as individuals, instead of being characterized by the school we are enrolled in.
Expressing surprise after learning what school someone is in implies that you can’t see that student doing what they’re passionate about because of a superficial expectation. It’s offensive and hurtful to hear someone say that you don’t belong in the field you love. It suggests that you either aren’t knowledgeable enough or good enough to be successful in that field.
People always react with surprise when they learn that I’m in the Elliott School because I don’t conform to the stereotypical image of someone involved in international politics or the professional working world. Physically, I don’t fit into the suit-and-tie image with my green hair and go-to combination of band t-shirts, jeans and Converse. Culturally, I’m about as vanilla as they come – an Irish-Italian from Boston. I have no direct connections to any countries or cultures outside of the U.S. And in some people’s minds, I’m unqualified because I lack these connections and therefore have no place majoring in international affairs or Latin America.
But in reality, none of these observations keep me from caring about the state of the world or the cultures within it. I’m as passionate and invested as anyone else in my school and that alone is reason enough for me to be here. Doubting my abilities because of my appearance is unfair and insulting.
The concept that everyone in the same school within the University must be exactly alike is unrealistic. There are about 5,000 undergraduate students in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, 2,000 in the Elliott School, about 1,600 in the School of Business and 800 in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. The idea that each school only contains students who have the same personality, work ethic and life goals is inaccurate. I find it highly unlikely that anyone has met 5,000 or even one person exactly like themselves – I know I haven’t.
Even in a school as small and subject-specific as the Elliott School, there are 14 concentrations and four majors which cover everything from security policy to contemporary cultures and societies. Plus, a student can double major or minor in a program from another school. With the number of combinations of majors and concentrations possible, I doubt that you could find two students exactly alike within any school. Each school has a wide range of majors and concentrations for a reason – because your school doesn’t define you. A school is defined by the diversity of its student body.
Students often don’t fit the expectations of the schools they’re in. For example, not all Elliott School students think they know more about the world than everyone else and not all SEAS students are hermits that never see the light of day. These are just a few of the many stereotypes I have encountered in my first year.
If you’ve ever been surprised when you learned what school someone’s in, take a moment and consider what made you react that way. Maybe you were just intrigued because you saw them working in a different field. Or perhaps you were shocked because their personality didn’t match up to what you associate with that school. For some people, there is an unspoken checklist in order to belong in a specific school. But if you can name multiple students in a school that are “exceptions”, then the “rule” for what qualifies someone to belong in that specific school is invalid. Generalizations ignore the wide array of interests and diverse personalities within each school’s population. No two people are the same, and we need to remember that before we make assumptions and believe the stereotypes we hear.
Kris Brodeur, a freshman double majoring in international affairs and Latin American and hemispheric studies, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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