Political labels can be harmful

Ryan Taylor

Students at UW Oshkosh are from a variety of backgrounds, whether they are in-state, out of-state or international students, everyone has a different background. As a result, many students on campus are being exposed to different cultures, ideals and values. Therefore, students on campus may be lead to use stereotypes to label people according to their culture and political affiliations. And while many people think that a negative stereotype is the only harmful kind, in the past, people have faced criticism due to the use of positive stereotypes as well. According to the article “When Compliments Fail to Flatter: American Individualism and Responses to Positive Stereotypes,” positive stereotypes tend to be depersonalizing, especially in individualistic North America. This article covers a variety of experiments that were run on a campus in which Asian Americans and women were exposed to positive stereotypes and then questioned on their perception of the person who made the stereotype. In almost all cases, the positive stereotypes, both gender and racial, were received poorly. The problem with positive stereotypes is that they, just like negative stereotypes, are the result of sweeping generalizations. These sweeping generalizations take away a person’s individuality and can offend people while harming personal and professional relationships, especially in a society that praises individual accomplishments and often regards group accomplishments as lesser. Along with stereotypes, many students are prone to label others based on opinions and beliefs. A current topic, which is being heavily discussed , would be the upcoming presidential election. Whenever this topic is brought up, many people try to label others as Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. They apply these labels whenever and to whomever they can. This is perhaps one of the worst things that can be done. If a professor is given a political label during their lecture, either because of a stereotype that applies to their field of study or because of a comment they made, students who hold different views may start to disregard what that professor says. Outside of the classroom, classifying people according to what you interpret as their political affiliation, may also be detrimental to ecoming engaged in campus clubs or creating new social circles. This benefits no one. An experiment by Robert Rosenthal of the University of California, Riverside shows that the placement of a label on a person or group may affect how others treat them, even on a subconscious level, regardless if the label is accurate or not. In Rosenthal’s experiment, elementary students were given an IQ test and then randomly selected to be labeled as “intellectual bloomers.” While these students were no different than their classmates the teachers, on a subcons,cious level, were more encouraging of their behavior, and at the end of the year, the students were given the same IQ test, and the “intellectual bloomers” saw marked improvements on their scores, averaging around 15 points. While other student’s scores had very little variation. It’s this subconscious treatment of other people that is truly harmful. This rings true for college students who are establishing some of the most important relationships of their lives. Whether they are friends, professors or potential employers, creating labels either gender-based, cultural or political can only serve to inhibit progression of these relationships in college.