Lunch with a side of labeling


In the Legacy Commons, more than food is being labeled: people are labeled too. “If you’re excluded from a cafeteria table, you’re being excluded from a social group,” says Ian Huang (9). “No one will say out loud ‘you can’t sit with us’, but some people will think it and show it.”

Emily Hsu (9) agrees that cliques can lead to social exclusion. She says, “Certain cliques have certain reputations sometimes. A person may feel discouraged from being friends with someone or feel peer pressure not to hang around certain people because of the groups they are part of.”

Not only that, but those who are not seen as part of a clique can be looked down on. “There’s a stigma against being alone,” says Annabel Uhlman (11). This may be because people naturally divide themselves into groups and favor those who are in their own group. Scientist Henri Tajifel randomly divided people who have never met before into groups and discovered that within minutes, people tended to believe that their own was group better than the others, and began to be biased towards their group members. “Humans often require minimal conditions for discrimination between groups to occur. Most of these distinctions are arbitrary and are used only for the purpose of believing that our own group is superior,” says Eliot Wang (11). “It is impossible for everyone to stop labeling, but people who use these labels should be highly aware of this fact and not use it lightly in public.”

At the same time, some students consider stereotypes as useful ways to navigate everyday life. “Labeling cliques makes it easier to refer to other people. Different people may use different terms to label them,” Ian says. “We might not think of a specific name for a group but when we hear other people use it, we recognize the group and we might start using it ourselves.”

Stereotypes aren’t just convenient ways to talk about groups: they can also be accurate. “I guess in some ways stereotypes are true,” says Theodora Tang (11). “Stereotypes of specific types of people come from what activities they do and typically their interactions with others.”

But labelling has its downsides because stereotypes are incomplete. “I would stereotype myself as a ‘basketball person’, but I also don’t want to appear as that type of stereotypical jock who only balls and does nothing else,” says Chris Chang (10).  “I just don’t think it represents who I am.”

It is important to realize that sometimes, it is not the labeling which is harmful, but stereotyping. “If [students] start to attach stereotypes to names, then it becomes negative. It’s the name that sticks to the stereotype, not the stereotype to the name,” says Ian. Both groups and individuals are more complex than labels or stereotypes would suggest. “I think what’s important is that we don’t let the notion of cliques to become embedded into us,” says Emily. “Someone’s personality or character shouldn’t be defined by what clique they are in.”