How to win friends and become a better person

It’s easy — stop sterotyping other people.

Martha Pietruszewski

Since waking up this morning, you’ve probably made countless decisions, and by the time you go to bed, you’ll have made countless more. One decision that you’ve made today is probably what you’re going to eat for lunch and with whom you are going to sit. Are you going to sit with the nerds? The dancers? Are you just going to sit alone?
 
The decisions continue as you go home from your classes. Is it time for a nap (or will people think you’re lazy)? Should you do your homework or watch TV? What should you eat at the dining hall or cook for dinner? Will people make fun of you for going to bed so early? 
 
Did you notice all of the assumptions I made? A place as simple as a dining hall creates social ideas and stereotypes inside your head that may or may not be true. 
 
There are social ideas that exist because of the media, what your friends told you or what you grew up hearing. However, we need to break the cycle of stereotyping at the University of Minnesota. I’ve found every person I’ve met has an incredible story, and when I heard that story, I felt bad for making any assumptions about them.
 
Here’s an example: I am a female student in the Carlson School of Management. Okay, think what you may, but hear me out. Yes, I am a business major. Yes, I am career-oriented and actually enjoy resume reviews. But I also love to travel and write. I keep a blog and love to watch indie movies and try new restaurants. I have two jobs (sometimes three) on top of being a college student. There is more to me than meets the eye, and the same thing is true of everyone else in your classes.
 
I can understand that by hearing the words “female” and “Carlson,” you’d put me into a few different boxes. Maybe your friends told you that everyone in Carlson is arrogant, rich and Republican. I don’t want you to believe that anymore. Don’t put me or anyone else in a box. 
 
While some of the students in Carlson may fit some of those boxes (and, believe me, I know people who do), the point is that the parts of each stereotype are greater than its whole. Maybe you think all political science students are really annoying. Chances are, not everyone who is a political science major is. 
 
Associating different students with certain stereotypes can impact their academic success. Being anxious about how others perceive you increases your stress level and lowers your chance to do well at school. 
 
Low levels of academic success can also bring on a whole host of other problems. If you are doing poorly in school and feel like you just can’t keep up, this takes a toll on your mental health — something that’s already enough of a problem at the University. 
 
Stereotyping also can be passed on through generations, which makes it harder for mindsets to change. For example, if I grew up with my parents often saying, “Don’t associate with thugs,” then I’m going to want to try and impress my parents and live up to their standard.
 
This mindset can harm young adults. Youth should be free to form their own opinions and recognize that these opinions are not set in stone. They should be able to recognize that it’s important to be open-minded. 
 
Now, why am I not urging everyone in the world to break this cycle of stereotyping? Because change starts small. It’s worthless to tell people how to act if you yourself can’t be held accountable for the change you are trying to start.
 
I mentioned that students should stop stereotyping, and that’s because some colleges and their students have already fallen behind. Many people our age are uncomfortable about new ideas and different ways of life that are not their own. 
 
This is exactly what we do not want at the University. College is supposed to be a place for freedom of expression — you are supposed to find friends who are just as weird as you and with whom you feel comfortable talking about radical ideas.
 
Microagressions, or statements that aren’t intended to be hurtful but can actually carry a lot of weight, can be another form of stereotyping. At the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, an event at which you could pet a camel was cancelled in part out of fear that it would offend people of Middle Eastern descent. 
 
College is not supposed to be somewhere that is washed of all new ideas, creativity or fun! You aren’t supposed to worry about microagressions or stereotypes at every turn.
 
It is supposed to be a place where you can fit into as many boxes as you want, a place where no one can stop you or try to put you in only one box. 
 
By protecting yourself and others from microagressions and stereotypes, you aren’t really doing yourself any good. Life outside of college is not for people who need their hands held, so you’d better get used to people who may think or act differently from you. 
 
Now, I understand that stereotyping has been around forever and that we all occasionally do it. I’d be very surprised if you told me you’ve never stereotyped anyone in your whole life, and I’d also probably call you out for lying. But that’s OK because it’s never too late in life to make some changes. 
 
Perhaps we need to make changes. Perhaps the reason we stereotype is because we are afraid. We are afraid of certain types of people because we are not comfortable with how they look, what their sexual orientation is or how they act.
 
This mode of thinking is outdated. There is no reason to be afraid of people. Chances are, you and the people you’re stereotyping have more in common than you think. And even if you don’t have much in common, that’s OK! You can still respect your differences.
 
So now, it’s time for lunch. Who are you going to sit with? Don’t be afraid — we don’t bite.