In one of my pedagogy courses this semester, we’re discussing diversity and inclusion in higher education classrooms. Our professor encouraged us to avoid fostering a “measuring stick” or competitive atmosphere by asking students to share personal stories about discrimination in class. I definitely see the logic in this strategy, so I will begin this post by apologizing because I’m going to break from that rule a tad. I will, though, try to keep my anecdote to a minimum both because I agree that the focus should be on theory and critical thinking and because I know that my story of woe is not all that woeful at all. That’s not to say that it doesn’t irk me, however.
With that being said, I find it interesting that it is socially acceptable, even in an intellectual and highly diverse group of people, to stereotype and demean certain types of people, especially types of people who are deemed privileged. I’m thinking of a specific group, of course, one of which I am a part – ivy league students. I don’t tend to tell a lot of people I meet that I attended an ivy league university for my undergraduate studies. Firstly, it would admittedly make me sound like a complete tool if I went around bragging about my bachelor’s degree. Secondly, and more importantly for me, I tend to get negative reactions from it, and I feel as though people judge me. Whenever the topic of ivy league students is brought up, most seem to jump to certain assumptions, usually about affluence, pedigree, and inheritance. For example, in said class, when the professor asked what students needed in order to get in to Harvard, the first answers that I heard shouted out were “legacy!” and “a rich family!” While I’m sure it could cost a lot of money to attend Harvard, I, much like the professor it seemed, found it shocking that the first necessity mentioned wasn’t good grades. Indeed, this instance is just one example of the vitriol that is often directed at the ivy leagues, and it never ceases to surprise me that people immediately assume that an ivy league student comes from money, didn’t necessarily earn their admission, and must also be conceited and condescending. I am not a legacy (my father didn’t even go to college), I come from a lower middle class family in rural Ohio, and I don’t look down my nose at people. Certainly, there are some students at ivy league schools who DO fit that stereotypical profile, but a large portion do not. Nearly every time that an ivy league school is brought up, I cringe, and I typically end up feeling sheepish, or even ashamed.
In our society, I am certainly not surprised that we associate certain stereotypes with groups of people; I’m definitely guilty of it myself. What I find most interesting (and sad) is that it seems to be a societal norm that even the educated, otherwise accepting types can spit venom at certain groups of people. Of course, having access (whether through legacy, hard work, or both) to any high-quality education is a privilege and no tears should be shed for the cause, but does that mean that it’s all right to publicly ridicule them as a group? I find it hard to believe that sharing stereotypes aloud about other social, political, or demographic groups would find the same amount of support. I think the lesson here is that all students, no matter their background, should feel safe in our classrooms. We can’t always tell what identities our students bring into the classroom with them, so we shouldn’t make blanket assumptions about ANY group. I certainly don’t want to ever make any of my students feel as small as I sometimes feel when people make assumptions about me.