Tag Archives: stereotypes

maybe the ‘dirty word’ of academia isn’t dirty after all?

At my first meeting of Provost’s Council a few weeks ago, I used what I’d always been told was a “dirty word” in academia. And the reaction was the opposite of what I expected.

In describing a feature of our new website to a room of deans and other academic officers, I said, “At the risk of using the ‘dirty M word,’ we hope this results in better marketing of our academic offerings.” I braced for a backlash, weeping, gnashing of teeth. None came. Quite the contrary.

“Finally!” one said, raising his hands for emphasis. “Hallelujah!” added another. While so-called “experts” tell us “academics” consider “‘marketing’ a dirty word,” here was a room full of people waiting, hoping, praying someone would acknowledge a greater need to market, promote or otherwise publicize all things academic.

If you’ve attended a higher education conference, you likely seen the following: A speaker uses the word “marketing” and then smugly says, “Of course, that’s considered a dirty word in academia.” The crowd then chortles along knowingly. Or not so knowingly. I’ve been among them. And I’ve been wrong. Maybe we all have.

Having worked in higher ed for nine years, I know this much: Almost everyone here welcomes and strives for greater publicity, promotion or marketing of what they do. They want to attract great students, want to retain those students, want to recruit and keep outstanding faculty, want to receive grant money, want to (individually or collectively) gain prestige. So why — other than our own preconceived notions and often-faulty conventional wisdom — would we expect them to be averse to the term “marketing” or any attempt to help them attain their goals?

The bigger problem is that once we start to see others as preconceived groups — academics or Briggs-Myers categories, generational stereotypes or ethnic types — we stop seeing them as people. Making assumptions on anyone — an all-too common practice, even in higher education — is just wrong. Maybe stereotype should be the real dirty word of the conversation.

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beloit mindset list: a simple, sloppy view of history.

Every year it comes out and observers are all a-twitter (or this year a-Twitter) over the Beloit College Mindset List, which supposedly tells us old fogeys what this year’s incoming freshman, born in the early ’90s, have known and what they haven’t known. I watch really intelligent people cite it all the time, which is a shame since it’s so flawed.

It is a clever concept, one that goes down easily among readers not particularly interested in research and accuracy. But then, among student-affairs professionals and journalists who also buy the bogus Millennial stereotype lock, stock and barrel, the Beloit Mindset List is easy candy.

So how is it sloppy or even downright wrong? Here are just a few things I spotted on first glance:

41. Phil Jackson has always been coaching championship basketball.
Rebuttal: Except for the two seasons he, you know, wasn’t coaching.

51. Britney Spears has always been heard on classic rock stations.
Rebuttal: On what planet do classic rock stations play Britney Spears between the songs of Led Zepplin and Bob Seger?

52. They have never been Saved By The Bell.
Rebuttal: … except when it was running in syndication, which it always has since the original run. Oh, and then there’s Saved By The Bell: The New Class, which somehow ran from 1993 to 2000.

64. CDs have never been sold in cardboard packaging.
Rebuttal: … except for the dozens of CDs released since the early ’90s I’ve purchased in cardboard packaging.

70. Vice presidents of the United States have always had real power.
Rebuttal: Dan Quayle was vice president when this year’s freshman were born. Nuff said.

Look, we don’t stand for shoddy research or half-baked answers within our academic halls. So why do we flock to — and venerate — such flawed pronouncements from our peers? If a student turned in such lazy work, what self-respecting professor would give it an A?

If you want to know your students’ mindset, here’s a novel idea: TALK TO THEM! I’ve found incoming freshmen ready, even eager, to discuss what they like and dislike, their concerns, their hopes and dreams. Real conversations will let you learn much more than the Beloit Mindset List’s simple, sloppy view of history ever would.

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sweeping away preconceptions.

Whenever I hear people talk of students or prospective students as some kind of homogeneous group, or in generational terms, I recall the first time I ever saw a streetsweeper.

During my senior year of college, I’d crashed at a friend’s house after a late night. Woke around 5 a.m., hopped in the ’78 Chevy Malibu and that’s when I saw it. This strange little vehicle with large rotating scrub-brushes cleaning the street. Coming from a town under 2,000, I’d never before experienced such a fantastical machine. But when I told my friends from cities of any size about it after, they eyeballed me as every bit the rube I often felt.

Similarly, our students come from so many different places and experiences, and have such a variety of needs and interests. So it’s curious that, after we’re taught while growing up not to stereotype, so many involved in higher education are quick to, well, stereotype students. They talk of a reductionist Gen Y or Millennial stereotype (founded on fairly shaky ‘research’ and assumptions) and use broad reductionism in spewing generalizations. Don’t our students deserve better?

Anyone who’s had the pleasure of interacting with even a handful of students know what a diverse bunch they are. The young man from the farming community is quite different from the young lady from the Bronx, even if demographers try to pigeonhole them with the same one-size-fits-all label. Isn’t it arrogant to assume they have all these similarities just because they were born within years of each other? To just classify all as Millennials or Gen Yers or whatever oversimplified stereotype someone will invent for the next generation is to do them a disservice. And, in the process, doing all of us a disservice.

So next time you’re thinking of what students may want, here’s a simple suggestion: Don’t box them into a stereotype. Instead, talk to them. You may be amazed. Moreover, you could sweep away preconceptions and assure a clearer road to understanding.

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