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Breaking the Mold

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Breaking the Mold

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It is an undeniable fact that high school stereotypes exist. In fact, according to a poll answered by 251 students at a high school in MS, 96.8 percent agree that high school stereotypes exist. Fitting into an archetype is nearly unavoidable. Something as small as a person’s skin color is enough to shove them into a category of predetermined expectations and characteristics. It may seem apparent as to why this is problematic, but the wounds stereotypes cause are far deeper than meets the eye.

Stereotyping begins at a young age, and continues throughout a person’s life. The problem arises when stereotyping occurs during a young age. A Stanford study on stereotypes in minority learning finds, “Negative stereotypes in classrooms or other learning environments can lower performance as well as the ability to learn and retain new information.” Co-author Valerie Taylor explains, “It doesn’t only affect how much that they can learn–it will necessarily affect how well they perform on a task with that material.” The study was taken on a group of African-American students in both “threatening” and “non-threatening” situations. It was a test on information retention, and it was found that the students in a threatening situation performed worse in both the  warm ups and the actual exam. 

A different study conducted by the University of Washington, found that stereotypes can cause students to “choke under pressure.” The study was taken by testing two groups of Asian-Americans, one under stereotypes and one without, on their mathematical prowess. The results show that the students who were stereotyped essentially cracked under the pressure. The common expectation that Asians are good at math is, ironically, what caused them to become worse at it. Typically students try to conform to their stereotypes, but when the expectations are increased it places unwanted stress upon the students.

Alongside racial segregation, We continue to segregate ourselves further into certain subgroups. The results of the “Your Voice” student poll reflect the stereotypes we create for ourselves: preps, TikTok personalities, nerds, VSCO girls/boys, troublemakers, class clowns, jocks, tryhards, etc. Not all of these stereotypes are necessarily bad, but tryhards, troublemakers, and class clowns all have an arguably negative connotation. Despite knowing the connotations, we were the ones who elected to put ourselves into those categories. This causes us to try to live up to more preset expectations, all of which are not beneficial to anyone.

Let us dive into the world of a “nerd.” Merriam-Webster defines nerd as “an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person. Especially one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits.” While it is good to be devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits, it is fundamentally harmful to fit the mold of a “nerd.”
Labelling somebody as a nerd is affectively calling them unattractive and socially awkward. While the colloquial definition of nerd may vary, the basic understanding is that nerds are socially awkward, and imposing labels on them will only increase the social ineptitude.

So what is the takeaway? About 70 percent of students who responded to our poll agree that stereotyping is harmful and offensive. Psychology Today notes, “Decades of research have shown that stereotypes can facilitate intergroup hostility and give rise to toxic prejudices around sex, race, age and multiple other social distinctions.” There are no good stereotypes. We as one voice hold the controls to stereotyping. Putting the end to stereotypes is an “all for one and one for all” deal. If we each put equal effort into cutting the head of the snake, we each can rewrite our narratives based on what truly makes us who we are. We must learn to stop beating each other down with stereotypes, and to start picking one another up – allowing each to write his or her own story. So I ask that each day, we each try to eliminate prejudice by breaking the norm one step, one compliment, one helping hand, and one story at a time.