Column: Stereotypes

“What’s your major?” Since beginning college, you’ve probably asked and been asked this question countless times. This is one of the “Bob Jones Five” questions because knowing a person’s major can give you a clue to their personality. But sometimes the characteristics that come to mind about people based on their majors are common stereotypes that may lead you astray.

Every major has its stereotype. When I tell people that I’m an English major, people assume that I want to be a teacher, that I’m bad at math and that I read Shakespeare for fun. But in reality, being responsible for the education of children scares me, I work at a bank and I read my first Shakespeare play last year.

Stereotypes often start when one person labels a group of people based on an experience with one person. Sometimes this is a good thing. Many people, including myself, take pride in their major and the associations that come with it. And the knowledge that a person in a major is generally hardworking, dedicated or compassionate can be a good stereotype. But, on the other hand, negative stereotypes are those that label people as anti-social, selfish or weird, just because they are part of a larger group with those unflattering labels. Stereotypes become a problem when they influence people to make inaccurate assumptions about someone.

My roommate, a junior nursing major, said that many times people confuse her hardworking attitude as her being anti-social. She has had to work diligently to combat this stereotype. One way she has done this is by joining a choir on campus. She said people are often surprised that a nursing major would be interested in joining a choir. We shouldn’t assume that a person has certain characteristics or behaviors because he falls into a well-known stereotype. Instead, we should be open to knowing who each person is individually.

In addition to facilitating prejudgments, stereotypes also tend to confine us. People can become afraid to do things that they are good at and enjoy because it is not something that is considered stereotypical for them to do. Why shouldn’t an English major also be a banker? Or a premed major love to perform music? Our major shouldn’t become a cage for us.

It’s bothersome that one answer to the simple question, “What’s your major?” can cause a person to negatively stereotype another before knowing who he or she truly is as an individual. Although many people have similarities, God created each of us with unique attributes.

Let’s be people who seek to know others for who they are, not just for what they’re a part of.