A few weeks ago I was discussing study habits with a friend, when I mentioned in passing that I frequently travel uptown to study in the library on the Wilf campus.
“Oh, so you’re one of those girls who are always in the uptown library,” she responded, her tone clearly hinting what she meant.
While this was not a surprising answer, I was still taken aback, as I always am by these sorts of comments. The stereotype is one that I was familiar with, as I’m sure most students at YU are. It goes something like this: if a girl goes uptown to study it must be because she wants to meet guys in the library. It can’t be that I focus better on my work, or that I study with more concentration, or that the writing that I do uptown is markedly better than what I can accomplish in either library on Beren campus or my dorm room.
This one interaction with my friend is far from rare at YU. Everyone is familiar with the myriad of stereotypes attached to seemingly unrelated academic decisions.
I know countless people who have stories of being mocked for their choice in major. Students who major in Studio Art are told that they must have chosen that field for its “easy” course load. Students studying History are informed by their peers about their inevitable lack of employment options. Even Biology and Psychology majors are written off as “classic Stern girls” only doing what is expected of them.
I have had friends confide in me that the clubs they choose are based primarily on the images that are associated with these extracurricular activities. Certain clubs are seen as “less cool” than some other more “prestigious” clubs. These indications actually affect people’s decisions in getting involved on campus.
The use of labels is rampant in YU. Every academic decision seems to be scrutinized by strangers and friends alike, and box you into some category of “type of girl” with a list of preconceived notions ready to be thrown at you.
Obviously being judgemental is not a YU-specific problem. In any community individuals are judged and categorized based on their actions and interests. However, there is undoubtedly a problem at YU – and the problem is not simply that people are quick to judge.
The problem is that these stereotypes and judgements stop students from doing what will be the most rewarding for them. Students are wary about travelling uptown to study. They think twice before deciding a major that is in a field that they actually want to pursue. They question the image that joining certain clubs will create for themselves. Ultimately, we as a student body are giving too much weight to the, not necessarily malicious, but definitely uninformed comments that we hear from our peers.
Just to be clear: I’m not writing this as someone who is above all of this or unaffected by what others say. I have always been quiet and therefore inclined to do whatever my friends were doing. Branching out or being independent is difficult when you’re shy. So I just wouldn’t. But my first semester I decided to stop letting what my friends were doing dictate my own actions. I surprised everyone by switching from a science-related career path to political science. I joined clubs on campus where I knew nobody, because they sounded interesting to me. And yes, I even started to study in the library uptown.
If I never consciously decided to ignore what everyone else was thinking or saying about me, I would have never met some of my closest friends. I would have never found what I am really passionate about. And I most certainly would not be your student council president.
Ultimately, no matter how many semesters and years we end up spending at YU, college is short. Worrying about the stereotypes on campus can seriously hold us back from experiencing YU to its fullest. Every student has different interests, different academic needs, and different ways of pursuing their passions. And one of the greatest parts of YU is the fact that it caters to this diversity within its undergraduate student body. The opportunities in YU are endless. If we obsess over what others will think of our decisions, there is a good chance that we will miss out on what may be our greatest experience at YU – what will really help us realize our full potential.
This year, let’s all agree to stop letting these stereotypes hold us back. Let’s study where we are most productive, major in what we want to pursue, and join clubs that interest us. Let’s do what fulfills us and makes us happy – not what will make us more popular or less controversial.