The Kaimin Social Experiment
We asked each person one of the following:
1. How do you think people perceive you?
2. How do you define yourself?
3. What surprised you about the project?
This is what they had to say.
With a choir book in hand and a camera recording, Kiersten Hall turned around to see who she had been paired with — a guy with a chest tattoo, ear gauges and an electric guitar hanging over his shoulder.
The only thing Hall knew was she was about to meet her stereotypical opposite.
As she stood in the photo studio of Don Anderson Hall and introduced herself to Emmet Ore, guitarist for the funk jam band Shakewell, Hall felt a little nerdy.
“If you had asked me where I was headed when I was a freshman in high school, he’s who I would have described — cool and in a band,” she said. “Where I ended up was classical music.”
Guitarist vs. Vocalist
The Montana Kaimin looked within niches on campus and selected people willing to take part in a social experiment with little explanation.
We took portraits of people with different majors, jobs, backgrounds, hobbies and beliefs and paired each person with their stereotypical opposite — the classical singer with the rock guitarist, the University president with a custodian, the pre-medical student with the media arts major.
Then we brought the counterparts into the studio to introduce themselves and try to figure out why they were paired — while the camera rolled.
Humans categorize each other by labels — their work friends, bar friends or family. Organizing groups and activities gives our chaotic lives a sense of order.
And those definitions shape our initial interactions with strangers.
How people might identify Hall depends on the day — whether she’s headed to the Music Building with a violin in hand or to equestrian practice in tights and riding boots.
When dressed for choir, Hall thinks people see her as a goody-two-shoes.
“Though I’ll never understand why people jump to that,” she said.
When dressed for riding, she thinks some people see her as arrogant.
But given the chance to define herself, Hall said she’s a student, a friend, a rider, a musician and a political advocate within the LGBT community — it depends on the moment.
Yet oftentimes, we still rely on categories. Part of what perpetuates these stereotypes is the fact we often shove ourselves into roles. We wear our majors, jobs and hobbies as identities. We divide ourselves by political stances like armies in battle. Age becomes our defining feature.
When captured in the stillness of a photograph, first appearances are strangely simple. And not enough.
Triathlete vs. Skier
Dan Mazza (left)— Senior, Exercise Science: “I don’t think my appearance says triathlete — I try for it not to…I like the idea of partying, drinking all night and eating whatever I want. But after one beer, I’m over it. I think I just want the next day more, the workout and pushing myself in that way.”
Phillip Midboe (right)— Senior, International Business and Business Management: “I guess you could say energetic extreme sport enthusiast, and I would define myself as a joyful, energetic, extreme sport enthusiast.”
Baker vs. Nutritionist
Kelton Enich (left)— Senior, Secondary English Education: “I was surprised to be identified as a baker. I mean I love baking, so it makes sense in a certain way. It’s just so many people have part-time jobs, and that’s the only way or environment we see them in. But that’s normally such a small part of their life.”
Blakely Brown (right)— Professor, Health and Human Performance: “I actually used to be a baker. Years and years ago I owned my own bakery…It’s actually what got me interested in nutrition.”
Filmmaker vs. Pre-Med Student
Justin Haider (left)— Senior, Media Arts Major: “Anyone who sees anyone categorizes them into a group, because it’s easy for our brain to do that. No matter how hard I try not to, I still stereotype people into groups because it’s an easy way for my mind to categorize things.”
Katie Dorsett (right)— Senior, Biochemistry and Health Professions : “I have school Katie and non-school Katie, and only a few people get to see non-school Katie so I feel like that’s really who I am. And who I am at school, I’m just trying to focus, that’s not exactly who I am. And then real me is just like, easy going and nice and funny, and I just like to hangout with friends and watch nerdy sci-fi movies.”
Ultimate Player vs. Football Player
Nate Goodburn (left)— Super Senior, Physics: “I think I come off as confident and outgoing — sometimes to an obnoxious degree, other times to a comforting one and I think people see me as sure of myself. I’m a leader, an empathetic leader, and a stubborn debater and passionate love maker.”
Nate Harris (right)— Senior, Communication and Sociology: “If I introduce myself as a football player, it’s a totally different response than if I introduce myself as just Nate. People, and professors, think I’m cocky or just looking for the easy way out. I’m well rounded — I love football and my life, but I’m one of those nerdy jocks. I take school very seriously and sometimes too seriously.”
Native American Students vs. Japanese and Korean Students
Left: MJ Desrosier, Jess Desrosier, Dustin Monroe, Jonathon Old Mouse, Ronnel Goss, Deserae Kill Eagle, Aubrey Ground — Native American Students, National Diversity of Campus
Ronnel Goss (left side) — “People probably see me as shy and distant, like the stereotypical type of Native American — keep to themselves or with other Native Americans. I see myself as normal, as Native American, family oriented and just friendly in general.”
Right: Yo Ono, Reiko Tsuchida, Danbi Lee, Ayumi Nakahara, Miri Nakano, Emiri Inagaki, Nodoka Yamaura — Japanese and Korean Students, International Diversity on Campus
Ayumi Nakahara (right side)— Japanese Foreign Exchange Student: “I think Montana people maybe think Japanese person including me, looks like I don’t have any opinion, and all Japanese person are calm. American people think, why are they so calm and you should have opinions. But when I talk to people, they know I am not calm.”
University President vs. Custodian
Royce Engstrom (left)— UM President: “People who don’t know me personally have a certain image of what the president is…I’m sure people are a little bit intimidated by the idea of the president…I would hope that as people get to meet me — as a person — they view me as approachable and genuine about what they do.”
Warren Clark (right)— Custodian, Elementary Education Grad Student: “As a janitor, I think janitors are kind of in the background and around when no one else is around, so I don’t think people really see me, or notice I’m back there unless they think something hasn’t been cleaned well. That’s the only time I get attention, I guess is the way to put it.”
Forester vs. Businessman
Casey Seaman (left)— Sophomore, Forestry Major: “People can be maybe a little intimidated by me because of the beard or the way I dress and I guess because I seem antisocial. I’m older than most kids here and don’t really want an 18-year-old best friend.”
Jeff Lester (right)— Freshman, Business Major: “It’s kind of like a social experiment. It’s cool how first impressions will affect how people think about you.”
Muslim vs. Christian
Farzona Shukurova (left)— Senior, Marketing and Entertainment Management: “People probably see me as a quiet person. I’m almost always the only international student in my classes. When we have projects, I’m so scared to pair up with Americans, I don’t know why. They are really very nice after I get to meet and pair up with them, but first it is so scary for me — probably because of the language.”
Julia Goar (right)— Senior, Community Health: “I think when most people think about Muslims and Christians, they think that that would be the first thing that would be brought up, that it would be really obvious. Though the two religions are fundamentally different, that was still the last thing we talked about. We talked instead about the things we might have in common such as school and family.”
Left: Kayla Forman, Darby McNally, Karly Rochin
Darby McNally — Freshman, Business Marketing: “The second day we met the people that were supposed to be us in a couple years, that was kind of cool. It shows what you’re working toward.”
Right: Shanti Johnson, Nicky Ouellet, Charlie Ebbers
Nicky Ouellet — Grad Student, Journalism: “I am just now coming into myself, and only lately have I felt like the happy end energetic person that people perceive me to be.”
Photos and video by Gracie Ryan
Essay by Katheryn Houghton and Gracie Ryan
Print design by Jess Neary
Web Design by Abbey Dufoe
For more, visit montanakaimin.com