Labels can prevent potential friendships

My name is Courtney Servaes. I’m a sophomore at Baker University.

Baker is just another school in the list of more than 2,474 four-year colleges and universities in the country; it’s just a star on somebody’s map, just a spot somewhere in the world. Maybe it’s exactly like every other college in the country. Maybe its nothing like any of them.

Here, there are tons of groups, tons of activities and tons of stereotypes. But if you look closer, if you tear down all the labels we give others, if you unmask all the stereotypes that blind us, maybe you could see someone like you. Or me.

I know a girl at our school who enjoys college. Maybe you’ve seen her. She’s active on campus and in her sorority. She’s usually sporting clothes from Abercrombie and Fitch, Hollister or American Eagle when she’s not wearing letters. She loves her friends and rarely passes up an opportunity to go out with them. Maybe you’ve talked to her at a frat party or somewhere else on campus.

Before college this girl excelled at everything she did: student council, athletics and academics. The cool kids called her “friend” and the not-so-cool kids called her a “prep”. Maybe you remember someone like her from your high school.

She still managed to have the time of her life in high school though – especially during homecoming of her senior year when she came close to being crowned queen at the football game; or the year her boyfriend’s basketball team almost won state and the entire student body stayed at one hotel; or her junior year when her guy friends decided to throw water balloons at the senior class float (which ruined the paint on the float and inevitably led to a junior class triumph); or senior prom night when her class posed for one final dance photo together; or graduation night, when they all sat around a campfire reminiscing about old times, laughing about things they’d done the last four years and crying because they finally realized it was all over.

I bet you do know a girl like her. Maybe she’s your best friend, maybe she’s your biggest enemy, maybe she’s your girlfriend or maybe she’s you.

You’ve labeled her, haven’t you? I know I have. But why? Why do we define others, and in return, let others define us?

But before we get caught up in her label, in her subgroup, let me remind you that you’ve overlooked a few things about her.

Sure, you might spot her dancing to the latest hip-hop song at a party on a Saturday, but her room, covered in posters of late ’70s bands like The Clash and the Ramones, paints a different picture of her musical interests.

Still think you know this girl?

Did you also know she likes art? She could sit and sketch or paint for hours. Did you know that? Or did you overlook that, too. I know I did.

What if I said she hated being popular? What if I said she was a nice, caring person? What if I said she attributed all of her high school popularity to her childhood best friend who just happened to grow up and become captain of the cheerleading squad and homecoming queen?

Having second thoughts about that label you gave her? Me too.

What if I said she sometimes questions her place in the world too, that she worries about what everyone else thinks of her, how everyone else defines her. What if I said she also feels like she can’t always be herself around her friends and peers because she’s afraid that no one will accept her?

Now, what if I told you that you do know that girl, you have seen her around campus and you have talked to her at frat parties. What if I told you she was me or someone like me?

Would you judge me because of my hobbies, my interests and my friends? Would you refuse to get to know me because of who you think I am? You already have. We all have.

Baker University is only a spot on a map, only a place somewhere in the world. Maybe it’s exactly like every other college in the country or maybe its nothing like them at all.

But if you look closer, if you think about all the labels you’ve been given, all the stereotypes you fit, maybe you could finally see that it’s only when we stop judging others, stop defining the people we think we know and stop labeling our peers, that we discover that the person we want to be does exist and that we can actually step outside those labels and define ourselves.

Maybe you’ve seen me around campus. Or someone like me.