Every time I meet someone new, I can't help feeling boxed in.
"Good to meet you, Wade. What kind of things are you involved in on campus?"
"Well, I'm a member of a college fraternity..."
"You're a frat guy? You're a buttchugging, womanizing, racist, patriotic, drunk, Republican frat guy! During the week, you take Adderall to stay awake, haze pledges and make them do your homework. You've never had to work for anything, and you drive a jacked-up pickup with 'Salt Life' tattooed across the back window. Fraternities use philanthropies as a disguise to have parties and put roofies in girls' drinks."
"...I'm also really involved in my church..."
"Oh no, not one of those Christian types. Telling gay people they're going to hell, passing judgment on others and being literally holier-than-thou. If I don't believe the Bible word-for-word, you think I'm damned. Come on, man. What has religion ever done for anyone? I thought you were smarter than that."
"...and I'm a senator in SGA..."
"You're one of those resume-building rats who comes out once a year during campaign week to pretend to care about the student body. You tell freshmen how much their vote matters to 'change' (always 'change') the university, and you're the campaign to do it! You don't even go to the senate meetings. You just do what the administration says. You're one of those involvement types. UT loves those people. They're puppets."
"...I'm also a member of the Cultural Attractions Committee..."
"Dude, what's that? Oh yeah, one of those things we have to pay money for. I don't agree with that. Isn't that like Sex Week? We shouldn't have to pay student fees. Why do you do that? Oh, you brought Esperanza Spalding to campus? Who cares? Like why do we need a Women's Coordinating Council? Or a Film Committee? Waste."
Not only does this sort of reactionary discourse about our fellow students represent an unwillingness to appreciate the sort of myriad of interests our university seeks to foster, it reveals an arrogant and insular ideal about the way we want people to conform to our own versions of them.
Here's one thing about college that we all need to realize: we like to put each other in these neat little boxes where we can say, "This is Mike, my hipster friend," or "This is Kelly, my athlete friend," instead of "This is Holly, my friend, who has lots of interests."
Why do we do this? I think it's because sometimes, we want to seem well-rounded ourselves. If we have connections to people around us who themselves have connections to a specific, diverse box of people around them, we, by extension, promulgate the illusion of feelers all around our community.
More importantly, we do this because it's easy. We have these rigid, planned-out conversations. "How are classes going?" and "How is the (insert club here) going?" are the starters. Then, we name drop, "(Insert name here) has told me a lot about it," when really, they haven't. Then we say "See you later!" and walk away. This isn't to say people can't have a short, meaningful conversation about the daily routines of each other's lives, but it enforces the boxes.
Without these boxes, we can have a healthier campus community, one that seeks to acknowledge the individuality of all its students and appreciate how that individuality contributes to a more vibrant UT. We can't change it all in one night, but it starts with thinking about the implications of categorizing people based on one of their traits or talents or interests. We're all more complicated than that, after all, and the next time someone we've just met tells us one of their interests, it is in our best interest to try to value it.
Wade Scofield is a senior in Latin and religious studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.