In the final weeks before the dissolution of my last relationship, I was exceedingly unhappy with who I perceived my then-boyfriend to be. Perceived is a key word as, rather selfishly, I often was irate when he did not correlate with my ideal boyfriend, even though forcing him to change would shift him completely out of what he was comfortable with.
In post-relationship discussions and further musings on my part, I realized that over the course of the year and a half long relationship, I had continuously imposed my boxed descriptions of my former significant other. More often than not, I mentally confined his range of emotions to a single one. Although I have always prided myself on being open-minded, I completely failed to remember that people, the person I doubted included, are multifaceted and are not static beings.
When first encountering people, stereotypes are often unconsciously, and immediately, enforced. A woman on welfare scathingly criticized for being lazy and gaming the system rather than understood for her personal situation. A filmmaker always in doubt of his success because of where his ancestors are from. In my case, it was a boy who needed his own time with his friends and schoolwork. When these assumptions are made, we unceremoniously flatten these complex persons.
As YA author and YouTuber John Green once pointed out, the only person we can “imagine endlessly complexly” is ourselves. As we are stuck in our own bodies, in our own consciousness, and able to see out of only our eyes, we are only able to experience “us.” While we are consciously aware of how complex we are, it is easy to forget that others have similar feelings, ideas, problems and, most importantly, sense of being. In the novel of our life, we are the protagonists and all others underwritten secondary characters with brief epithets.
Probably unintentionally, this type of stereotyping has unhealthily seeped into Tech culture. A strong leader and STEM student quickly reduced to less than intelligent because of her blonde hair and Greek letters. Large groups of students deemed socially and sexually inept by their role-playing game of choice. The successes of certain individuals are often dismissed because of the majors they have selected, often to justify less than stellar success in oneself.
Many of these one-line descriptions are tossed around casually and carelessly, but are immensely hurtful to those defined. Eliminating the layers of others can lead to outright ignorance of their needs, and may even silence many.
It is prudent for Tech students to realize the power of their words and realize the complexities of their fellow students. Unless there is conscious effort to curb overly simplifying others, Tech cannot fully achieve the status as the diverse and accepting community that we wish to be.