Sisters United, named organization of the month for March, presented a program on defining and breaking stereotypes.Members of the organization began by reading aloud some of the stereotypes other West Chester University students had written out. The members handed students slips saying: “Just because I’m _____ doesn’t mean I’m ______.”
The stereotypes were posted in Sykes for others to read and discover what bothers their fellow classmates.
“There are more stereotypes than we thought,” one member of Sisters United said. “We’re not sticking to the mold [of typical stereotypes].”
Many of the stereotypes that students presented were relating to their gender, race, relationships or sex life and how they dress or appear. Janet Sackey, freshman representative of Sisters United, said these are the stereotypes that WCU students are thinking about and what affects them.
Several students in the room said stereotypes “haunt” people. Students came to the consensus that stereotypes may be “opinions” about people. These opinions they agreed are “not always bad” as they “help us in a way.” Sackey said it is possible for people to use “stereotypes for answers” about another person. Other students added to the conversation that several stereotypes are “hurtful.”
Sisters United presented that stereotypes, good and bad, may “stem from something you don’t know about.” When asked where stereotypes come from, one student believes people start to “generalize” people around them. In addition, another student said it comes from “families and past generations.”
Past experiences seemed to affect the way students thought about others they interact with or pass-by. One student said when something happens just one time, for some people, it sets a standard across the board.
One student shared a personal anecdote; after being jumped on a bus, they know to not get on that bus anymore. The student jokes about it now to “bring light to the situation” despite how this stereotype may be true.
“Stereotypes put you in a box,” Sackey said.
Sackey presented that while people may see something specific, such as a specific gender or race, does not mean the person is sexist or racist. She also said students, do not embody typical stereotypes commonly associated with their involvement in specific groups or organizations. These involvements included stereotypes about Greek life organizations and on-campus clubs.
“We make stereotypes because it’s easy [to do],” one student said. “In our minds, it puts people in a box.”
Students did not believe that ignorance caused stereotypes to form. One student said it is about the way people present themselves. However, she also said that when people do not know about someone else, they should get to know others, without assuming how the person is.
“If you don’t want to be stereotyped in a certain way, then you should be mindful of how you conduct yourself,” one student said.
Other students encourage others to find out how people are instead of assuming or making up a stereotypical aspect of others.
Some stereotypes are presented by the media, as people may obtain stereotypes from what they view when watching TV. Debbie Pierre, junior representative for Sisters United, said stereotypes had to come from somewhere. Sackey asked how this gets portrayed through medias.
Many students discussed racial stereotypes found on TV. Many focused on the example of a white tank top shirt that was coined as a “wife beater.” One student said they do not understand why people call the shirts wife beaters. They said there was a stereotype that wife beaters wore this type of shirt. However, they said they realize not everyone does that even though they wear those types of shirts.
One student said people may not associate this stereotype with people who wear beaters. However, people still recognize the type of shirts as wife beaters. One student reminded others that they “should not go in with a closed mind.”
Stereotypes may cause people to have a certain “mentality” that they want to keep “without progressing” it, one student said. She explained when people do this, they are inhibiting themselves.
One student suggested the English language developed in a way that people do not question negative connotations of words or objects.
She gave the example of women crossing the street when a male is walking behind them. She said people are not hurting themselves by protecting themselves, however this hinders them from breaking a stereotype they hold.
A member of Sisters United asked the group if they think some of the stereotypes are true. Many said yes. After reading aloud stereotypes other WCU students had written, the member said many students do not seem happy with their stereotype.
“You can’t break something you don’t know about. I didn’t know about these stereotypes (written on a board at Sykes Student Union),” one student said. “I was surprised people felt this way.”
Agreeing with this view, one student added that “you can constantly be aware of yourself and not make stereotypes by keeping yourself in check.”
Addressing some stereotypes as the truth, one student pointed out that the associations of appearance or actions came from somewhere. She said when proving a stereotype to be false, “you need to show (people) how you really are.”
One student said not all stereotypes are true, including her own she wrote anonymously. She said her stereotype makes her feel belittled, in which another student agreed stereotypes belittle people.
“Acknowledge the stereotypes you make . . . acknowledge stereotypes people make towards you,” one student said. “It can be empowering.”
Ginger Rae Dunbar is a fourth year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at RD655287@wcupa.edu.