Behind the stereotype: Labels on Elon’s campus
Elon University is filled with groups, organizations, clubs and stereotypes that pertain to those groups. Our research for this story included a week long survey and several interviews with students belonging to different groups on Elon’s campus. Through our survey, interviews and writings, we’re trying to allow readers to see the person and learn their story behind the label, “The Breakfast Club” style.
Prep, jock, overachiever, nerd. Stereotypes are nothing new to a college campus. A recent study done on stereotypes of Elon University’s campus showed that labels are an easy thing to give, but they aren’t always accurate. From the week long study, 42 responses were gathered averaging around four answers a piece when asked what the most prominent stereotypes on Elon’s campus were. From the study, it was concluded that the five most prominent stereotypes of Elon’s campus are: “frat guy,” at 57 percent “sorority girl,” at 50 percent “preppy,” at 50 percent “rich and privileged,” at 36 percent “athlete,” at 24 percent and “theatre kid,” at 14 percent.While the amount of results were tremendous, the reactions to the results took a different turn.
According to Robert Douglas, a senior at Elon and a member of the fraternity Delta Upsilon since 2012, his fraternity has done everything they can to avoid the stereotype of a “frat guy.”
“I think my brotherhood specifically has done a lot to kind of tear down that stereotype and make fraternity members seem more like individuals, which I appreciate,” said Douglas. “I don’t appreciate the label because not everyone is going to fit that very specific model in Greek life and I am glad this is the case. People should be seen for who they are, not as the Greek letters on their shirts.”
Douglas definitely denies the stereotype of a “frat guy” from his extracurricular activities outside of Greek life. Douglas not only loves to spend time playing basketball and golf, but also belongs to Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and the Society for Human Resource Management at Elon.
Douglas isn’t the only member of Greek life that denies a stereotype. Janet Craig, a junior at Elon and a member of Phi Mu since 2013, disagrees with labeling at Elon and says that students shouldn’t be defined by what groups they are affiliated with.
“There is no one word that could accurately encapsulate any group,” said Craig. “ I know people in Greek life who refer to themselves as preppy, but I also know people in Greek life who hate the word. What people need to realize is that Greek life-like any large group-isn’t full of clones. We’re all very different people with different backgrounds and interests.”
Craig is the style editor for The Edge Magazine, a senior story writer for Her Campus and on Phi Mu’s executive council.
Junior Devon Wright decided to go through formal recruitment during the winter of her first-year while at Elon University. On the last day of formal recruitment, Wright accepted a bid from Zeta Tau Alpha, one of the nine Panhellenic sororities on Elon’s campus. She has since then been a member of Zeta Tau Alpha and of the Greek Community. She is proud to wear her letters around campus and have the “110% ZTA” pin on her bag because Zeta Tau has become a big part of her life. To the outside world, however, getting past the letters on her shirt is not an easy concept and only see her as that, a sorority girl.
Devon Wright is and always will be a sorority girl, a member of Greek life, but she is more than just the letters she wears. She too has a story. A story that is able to captivate with her love, passion and interest. A story that goes deeper than spirit jerseys and bows to her life and what has helped her grow into the person she is today.
Senior Stefan Fortmann was recruited by Elon University when he was attending high school in South Africa to play for the Elon’s men’s tennis team. Fortmann had been playing tennis since his adolescent years and decided very early on that it was his goal to become a college athlete. He was pumped and ready: the morning workouts, lifting weights, off season training, and the thrill of winning. Fortmann never hesitated on joining the men’s tennis team and soon became one of the leaders and top rated players on the team. Even with his top ranking, he is extremely humble and modest never wanting to share too much about his successes.
Stefan Fortmann is an intense and dedicated athlete who always pushes himself to the next level in order to better himself. To the outside world though, he has an intense and dedicated love affair with his sweats and Elon Tennis sweatshirt. His image solidifies himself as an athlete to the public eye, but he has more to add his story than just being an athlete. An activity that developed itself into something to do for fun which evolved into a hobby then transformed into his passion.
Vanity-lights up. Nasia Thomas enters a vacant dressing room of Elon University’s Center for the Arts. She has walked through this doorway perhaps a hundred times. Reflected back in the mirrors, she wears her long, black hair wrapped up by a gold-patterned scarf. Her makeup is minimal but effective. Her arresting authority is heightened by her effortlessness.
“I’m not all drama,” Thomas said.
She looks in a mirror. Her voice is self-assured but genial.
“I’m definitely not ready for a photo,” Thomas said. “I’ll send you my headshot.”
Thomas is an individual, who plays the part of herself. In May 2015, Thomas will graduate from Elon with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Music Theatre. Thomas takes pride in her major.
“I think that the stereotypes for performing arts majors are over-dramatic, full of energy, loud, outgoing, and stylish,” Thomas said.
Thomas, however, recognizes that this is a generalization.
“I actually know a lot of introverts in within the performing arts,” Thomas said. “My roommate is actually very introverted, but when he is on stage, he sets it on fire.”
In a field that requires performs to be distinctive, Thomas appreciates the individuality in others and in herself. After her graduation, Thomas plans to spend a summer working for the Municipal Theatre Association of St. Louis before setting her sights on Broadway.
In the poll that identified “theater major” as a popular Elon stereotype, several respondents used adjectives to describe this typecast as obnoxious. Listen to Thomas’ response below.
“If we stereotype beyond high school, I think it’s in a more graduated way,” Thomas said. “We don’t care as much. It’s not as important to categorize. I think we observe and move on.”
“Rich and Privileged”
36 percent of students who were polled remarked that Elon undergraduates are often perceived as financially privileged. Despite the well-manicured lawns, adorned in daffodils, and the well-manicured scholars, adorned in Lilly Pulitzer, Elon attracts less affluent academics than meet the eye.
According to Elon Director of Financial Planning Patrick Murphy, approximately one-third of Elon’s students receive need-based aid.
“We see a significant number of students, about 10 percent, that you would call extremely high need, because they are eligible for the Pell Grant,” Murphy said. “That’s not as much as you would find in a state school, but I think that’s a pretty good amount for a school like Elon.”
Murphy also explained that approximately half of Elon students must pay off student loans after graduation.
Jamisen “Kat” Moore is an Elon First Year, who was selected to receive one of Elon’s Watson and Odyssey scholarships, which consider applicants on both merit-based and need-based criteria.
“I’m not as privileged as some of the kids here,” Moore said. “Most of my friends at Elon aren’t particularly privileged.”
Moore, however, remarked on what she perceived to me most people’s first impression of Elon.
“I’d probably think that most Elon people were upper-middle class, if I were on a tour,” Moore said.
Moore reflected on falsehood behind this common perception.
Stephanie Burke, Class of 2015, attends Elon without the assistance of finical aid. Burke observed that the stereotype often comes from the initial perceptions of Elon’s gilded student body.
“The rich kid stereotype is common because of the brand names on everything that people wear, or where they travel to, or based on where they’re from,” Burke said. “Also, I think that when people take unpaid internships in expensive cities and abroad, that’s pretty telling too.”
During her four years on campus, Burke came to realize the complexities behind this “rich kid” façade.
“I think that is a gross over estimation to call the majority of Elon kids wealthy or financially privileged,” Burke said. “There are more people than we realize that have student loans or are employed in some capacity, who depend on the paychecks they make.”
Stereotypes categorize and judge a person in a single moment, but it does not define who they are. Behind every given stereotype is the face of an individual with their own defining characteristics and traits deeper than their surface level appearance. Every person has a story worth telling and a story worth hearing. Join Elon students in looking beyond the label.