Stereotyping is a prominent word in our society. It is a word that people are scared to even utter, let alone be categorized by it. But, the truth of the matter is that everyone stereotypes; oftentimes it is subconscious. It has been proven on multiple occasions that even people who are from diverse cultures will have natural tendencies to categorize someone just because of the color of their skin or the way they dress. And I’m going to be honest with you. I catch myself falling into these stereotypical tendencies regularly.
As a writing consultant at a very diverse university, I encounter people from all walks of life on a regular basis. I’ve had clients that are everything from non-traditional students with PTSD to 17 year old prodigies applying to med-school; I feel like I’ve seen it all. In many instances, however, I find myself subconsciously categorizing clients before I’ve even said hello. I take a quick look at them and determine how the session will go, simply based on their looks. And it is in these cases that I am always proved wrong. Each one of these clients I stereotyped prove my expectations wrong, making me question my reasoning for stereotyping said client to begin with.
One client in particular has caused me to be more conscious of my stereotypical tendencies. This young man looked like he was straight off a beach in California. He had short, bleach-blonde hair that had been formed into short dreadlocks about an inch long. He was excessively tan and wore extremely bright colors. His entry survey was very limited and was grammatically “all over the place”. Because of his attire, I instantly assumed that his session would be as messy and scatter-brained as his entry survey was, as opposed to one an intelligent person who attends a Tier 1 university typically has.
I was wrong.
Not only was he an insanely intellectual person, he was working on something so human and so amazing that I cried. He was creating a scholarship for children who have a parent with the same terminal brain cancer his mom had to help with the financial burden of college. If that wasn’t already amazing, he didn’t come into our writing center with plans to put this together; he already had a lawyer to help with this and donors lined up. He was amazing. The way he presented himself had nothing to do with his intellectual ability.
This young man taught me how natural stereotyping is, and he taught me how to learn from it. I learned that you shouldn’t feel ashamed when you catch yourself stereotyping a client. Just the fact that you caught it shows it was unintentional. Furthermore, I learned how to apply this realization to my job as a writing consultant. We should practice ways of how to not let these stereotypes create expectations for our sessions because, by failing to address our natural tendencies, we are ultimately doing a disservice to our well-deserving clients.