Box It Up

I really had to think for a long time about how stereotypical threat has impacted my life, and I realize as a white man this type of threat is either so small I don’t notice it or I really don’t find it offensive. That being said white men are probably more screwed up than everyone else, but I really had to rack my brain for a time where a stereotype was applied to me. So the story I am about to tell is a real first world, white, male privilege story, and writing/thinking about this made me realize how lucky I am. I could think of two times where stereotypes really had an effect on my life. The first was being directly related to me and in the second case someone was assuming that I held the same (racist) stereotypical beliefs as they did.

To give some context to this first story, from when I was born to my freshman year of high school I grew up on the east coast. Then for high school and college, I lived in Texas and Oklahoma. I had a really big friend base back east and for the most part identified as an east coaster. I never really cared much for southern culture, and I will admit that I generally associate people from the south as being backward thinking and most likely somewhere on the racism spectrum (the irony is coming). On a few occasions in the south I was called a “Yankee” or some other names along those lines but I felt that was more like a badge of honor. It didn’t bother me in the slightest, however when the roles are reversed that’s a different story.  All that being said I would occasionally take a vacation back east to see my friends and hang out with my family. I was out one-night getting drinks with friends and friends of friends when I started talking with this girl. We were just making casual conversation about what we did, etc.  As soon as I told her I was doing a Masters in Oklahoma here entire attitude change.  It was apparent this Ivy-educated New Yorker had just put me into the box of less intelligent/racist or some combination of this.  She asked me “how could you live in a place like that”.  I just responded that it was a financial decision and that It was a great school. Shortly after our conversation ended.  All that being said I don’t think anything but an ivy league education and a wealthy family would have appeased this girl. It’s funny, I know many people from a similar background and are friends with them.  Just this interaction really made me realize that our preconceived notions about where people are from can be so far from the truth.  It’s a wild idea that depending on if you are born above or below the Mason-Dixon line people are going to assume you are a racist or not.  This whole interaction made me realize how contrasting our country is even after 150 years after slavery was abolished.  It also made me rethink the stereotype I held as partly true.  I think the funny thing about the whole ordeal and this is true of every type of stereotype/ racism is generally the people we have biases about are people we have never met or had any interaction with.

All that being said everyone makes an initial judgment based on people’s appearance, however, next time don’t try to put someone in a box so quickly.  Listen to what they have to say and how they act before you make a judgment about them.

Intro Post for 5214

Hey all, my name is Sam Sherry, I go by he/him/his pronouns. I am a third-year Structural Engineering  Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech. I work as a graduate research assistant in a large structural testing laboratory where my project is focused on improving aging infrastructure with carbon fiber retrofits. At the lab, we test retired steel bridge beams to failure.  Before I was at tech I did my B.S. and M.S. at the University of Oklahoma.  Before that I moved all over the place: PA>NJ>TX>OK>DE>VA.  My parents switched jobs and I moved for school. I love that Dr. Grimes brought up the phrase “where do you call home” because whenever people ask me where I am from I always respond with “I don’t know”. After I finish my Ph.D. I hope to get an academic job at a university where I can continue doing research. I love doing large scale testing and coming up with solutions to modern problems. When I am not working I am typically running, climbing, hiking, or working out.  I love visiting national and state parks. My climbing trips have taken me all over the country and I have seen some beautiful places and wrestled some beautiful rocks.

I am taking this course and the other teaching classes because I hope to better understand others and challenge my perspective.  I would never want to exclude any of my students or make them feel uncomfortable. I think interacting on a college campus is a great way to get exposed to a multitude of people and ideas but I think taking a class like this one is a jump into the deep end of uncomfortable conversations/ideas. I am excited to interact with the class and challenge some of my misconceptions. I hope we all have a great semester.