Meet example ‘A’ of “out-group homogeneity”-the tendency, according to my psych textbook, to think that others dissimilar to you are all the same. Meet example ‘A’ of bitterness-a bawling journalistic tantrum. Meet someone who is incredibly misinformed, blind, pathetic and screeching for attention. Meet Wilkinson.
You could say that some of the generalizations I’m making about Wilkinson are unfounded and that I’m no better than him. After all, one article in a college newspaper may not be an adequate representation of a person’s entire personality. But the broad-based, ignorant claims he makes lead me to think differently.
All of the Five Colleges have their unshakeable, as-tight-as-Krazy-Glue stereotypes. Think back to the Scooby Doo characterizations: Amherst is the tall, conservative, preppy white guy; UMass is, well, Scooby-not the most flattering representation. Do I detect some reason for resentment here? Of all the acrimony that flared from these stereotypes, rarely have I seen such outright antagonism.
This leads me to think that maybe Wilkinson had some tragic, scarring experience at Amherst. Perhaps he was rejected by an Amherst girl or guy, and this is a result of love thwarted. Perhaps he suffered a case of food poisoning from some of Valentine’s stubbornly residual leftovers. Perhaps he was rejected from Amherst. Maybe he just hates us. Whatever the reason for his ire, his statements are largely unjustified and, in some cases, utterly incorrect.
“I hate them because I hate rich, white kids who never had to work a day in their life,” writes Wilkinson.
First of all, I certainly am not white, and 34 percent of this school is not either. If you walk around the campus you may see an unusually high percentage of blond or brunette J. Crew-clad types, but the students of color are here and we are visible. We do not shrink into the crevices, silent and cowering; we make our presence known. Amherst may not be a textbook example of ideal diversity, but this is western Massachusetts, and ours is a small liberal arts college which was all male and predominantly white until only 25 years ago.
Secondly, I am far from rich. I, and over 40 percent of the students at this school, receive financial aid. This means I pay virtually nothing to be here. Admittedly, this also means that half the students do pay the hefty $120,000 price tag garnishing four years at this place. But it doesn’t mean that all of them can fork over that amount comfortably, or as effortlessly as Wilkinson makes it sound.
He also accuses us of being students “who got where they are because their parents bought them a seat in whatever incoming class they are a part of.”
My parents had little or nothing to do with my decision to come here. My mother looked at me apprehensively and tried to pronounce “Amherst,” wondering why I didn’t go to some school she had heard of. That lack of moral support also extends to the financial aspect.
My fiscal contribution is larger than theirs-a result of summers spent serving coffee and selling accessories. Most students do the traditional “summer job,” working in the service sector-something that we vow “not to do for the rest of our lives,” designed to make us realize how difficult it is to earn money. I know how demanding it is to earn money on an hourly rate, how those hours can seem endless when I’ve been on my feet for eight hours or more. But while many get to take their summer earnings and use it as “pocket money,” my summer paychecks go directly to pay for my education.
I know that I am not alone. I used to be ashamed about admitting that I am on financial aid, but hearing similar stories from other students has strengthened me. I hear of a father who has to work three jobs to put his kids through school and of friends who cannot return to the homes that they miss and love because they don’t have enough money. I hear of someone who never even had a family to pay for their education. There may be a few legacy kids here and there, but the vast majority of us never had our “seats bought for us.” My parents barely have enough money to buy me a seat on a plane to fly home.
Wilkinson wrote, “They view their own upbringing and cultural outlook as superior to my own. They think that by virtue of their parents’ money they are better than I am. Their smarmy attitude says volumes about their stupid, gifted existence, and it all makes me sick.”
Here is where Wilkinson’s bitterness truly reveals itself. He also states that Amherst students have “a better chance to succeed in life” because of the education that “their parents bought for them.” I think I smell an inferiority complex. I certainly do not view myself as “better” because of my parents’ money. And how is my own upbringing and cultural outlook any different from Wilkinson’s? He never says anything about his own background. Is he paying his way through college? Oh, by the way, the definition of “smarmy” is groveling and sycophantic, quite a bit different than Wilkinson’s intended meaning.
This is not to say that Amherst does not have anyone who fulfills Wilkinson’s description. There are those who are incredibly ignorant about their privileges, blind to the inherent advantages that money gives them. Sometimes I find myself adopting a Wilkinson-like attitude, especially when someone drives by in their brand-new Audi or posh SUV. I ask myself, “Why?” Why am I the one who has to work part-time-not by choice, but by necessity? Why don’t I have the option to fly off to an exotic destination for Spring Break? But this attitude soon evaporates because despite the moments of self-pity and indignation at insensitively-made comments (e.g. “I don’t understand what they’re whining about. Working isn’t that hard,” made by a to-remain-anonymous fellow student), most of this campus is well aware of class issues.
“But Amherst College students are rich kids who get advantages in this world because of their money, not because of their relative intelligence,” Wilkinson continued.
At the risk of sounding like a snooty elitist, I would safely like to declare that this is definitely a moot point. Last year one of my roommates was valedictorian of her class, and the other was salutatorian-a not uncommon situation. We are confident about our academic aptitude, and this is often misinterpreted as snobbery. To claim that the average Amherst student is not intelligent is ridiculous, though.
Wilkinson also says, “The fact is that [Amherst’s] Shakespeare, argon and sociology is no different, no better, no more advanced, than ours. And so the only reason that Amherst College is seen as better than us is aesthetic.” Wilkinson implies that dollar signs (that buy the “aesthetic”) are the only difference between UMass and Amherst. Suffice it to say that there are quite a few other differences.
The fact of the matter is that a stereotype about the relative advantage that other people get because of a situation-their money, their resources, their whatever-will be made by a person who is getting hurt. It will not be intended to hurt the person on the receiving end of the allegation.
So, Wilkinson’s little stereotype isn’t hurting anyone at Amherst? How about the people at Amherst who don’t fit into his neat categorization? How about the students who work 10 or more hours a week to subsidize their educations? How about the families who have taken out thousands of dollars of loans to support their children in attending a school that they deem worthy of such an investment? Wilkinson doesn’t think he is injuring anyone with his generalization. Yet, he is. He is doing a disservice to those who have worked relentlessly to come here. He is ignoring, denying and spitting in the face of their accomplishments. He is not giving them the credit they are entitled to. He belittles their and my accomplishments. In addition, he disparages a school whose financial resources and generous alumni’s donations allow me, and many like me, to have such an education.
I can understand ridicule of a few things. The fact that we have a dead white man’s be-wigged head as a mascot. The fact that we are all secret dorks at heart (studying when we have to), no matter how hard we try to party. But the whole “spoiled stereotype” card? Play it again, Sam. I dare you.