Being a college student is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you feel very fortunate as a college education allows you to acquire the kind of skills and knowledge that make people more employable, while making new friends and gaining a better understanding of who you really are and what you want. On the other hand, everybody around you seems to know you better than you know yourself, thus making it incredibly difficult for you to appreciate and celebrate your uniqueness. Popular TV shows and movies have undoubtedly played a key role in promoting inaccurate stereotypes of college students, the most popular ones being a) the avid partygoer who cares more about alcohol and casual relationships than his lecturers, b) the lazy procrastinator who shouldn’t even be in college, c) the sensitive, liberal thinker who is constantly fighting for equality and human rights – more commonly referred to as “snowflake”, and d) the socially-awkward nerd who prefers books and videogames to any form of human interaction (Clohessy, 2017; Tucker, 2014).
As Liu et al. (2010, p. 233) observe, media consumers are constantly bombarded with large amounts of information, images, sounds and stories which shape their perception of reality. Despite being widely perceived as a negative thing, stereotyping is a highly effective technique that allows people to organize and categorize enormous amounts of data in such a way to simplify complex phenomena and facilitate inter-group communication (Ibroscheva & Ramaprasad, 2008). Stereotypes can be very convenient when dealing with unfamiliar individuals or groups, as all one has to do to feel safe once again – as uncertainty often causes people to feel unsafe – is assign a few dominant characteristics to them.
As a student who spends a considerable amount of time reading books and watching movies, most of the people around me – excluding my best friends, who have had to reconsider their initial impressions – perceive me as a “socially-awkward nerd” who doesn’t know how to interact with the opposite sex and will probably die single. What people don’t know is that in reality, I am a very sociable and entertaining person who has been in a stable relationship for over a year.
Contrary to what one may think, I am not even a particularly good student, in the sense that I sometimes struggle to meet my lecturers’ expectations, despite my hard work and unconditional dedication to my studies. The reason why I decided to discuss this particular stereotype is because I know for a fact that I am not the only one whose social life and self-image have been negatively affected by it. Knowing that everybody sees me in a certain way makes me feel as if I had to constantly act in such a way to prove them wrong, which often causes me to do and say things that I wouldn’t normally do. When people you label you as a nerd who doesn’t want to make new friends, they automatically assume that you are not interested in certain events or activities, thus condemning you to a life of loneliness and social anxiety.
This has a significant impact on their critical thinking skills too, as they no longer feel the need to ask you questions or spend time with you in order to get a better idea of what you are really like. As mental shortcuts, stereotypes prevent people from gathering primary information in order to form evidence-based opinions about the world – and those who live in it, of course. To minimize the impact that the “nerd” stereotype has on my life, I could encourage my close friends and fellow students to discuss the negative effects of student stereotypes, hoping to create a more inclusive environment. I could also use social media platforms to challenge common student stereotypes and post articles about the role of TV shows and movies in perpetuating stereotyped representations of students.