It’s happened to all of us.
You’re enjoying polite chit chat with a new face, or making casual conversation with an old friend, and the question of where you go to university arises.
And you say – with all the pride that comes from being enrolled at one of Britain’s best universities – that you go to St Andrews.
An expected response to this would perhaps be “oh how nice for you, I hear it’s a lovely town” or “gutted mate, must be freezing on the east coast without the Gulf Stream to keep you cosy” but no. In response to you telling this to the allegedly nice semi-stranger you are surprised to receive a slight sneer and wrinkle of the nose.
One can practically see the cogs of their brain turning as they make their instantaneous judgement about the university you go to, or more specifically, the stereotype of yourself and your peers.
The unfortunate truth of this matter is that we, as students of St Andrews University, are brutally subjected to the routine mockery of our so called student ‘stereotype’ from students from all other universities.
We all know the type; the ‘ideal’ St Andrews student under whose halo glow every other student is personified.
The perfect St Andrews gentleman will be an esteemed member of the aristocracy, excelling in golf, polo, rugby and rowing, yet still looking model-esque in a wardrobe dripping in tweed and Wills.
The textbook St Andrews girl will be a flawless beauty, outstandingly intelligent and usually draped in fur to protect herself from the Scottish weather.
With this stereotype I have one large nit to pick: who actually fits into this model of so called perfection?
My personal view is that no one does.
This University gives us the opportunity to embrace our individualisms in a way that really does defy the typecast. It is socially acceptable for a person to be a walking oxymoron: to like golf as well as raving, to play rugby and enjoy singing or to party hard but still find time to work.
No student here is as one dimensional as to have a lifestyle dominated by their love of tweed or an obsession with water polo. St Andrews is a university with a huge emphasis on extra-curriculars, and for outsiders to judge our students simply upon looks and reputation rather than by achievement and records is a travesty.
Even though we may be significantly smaller than most other universities in Britain, we don’t have lower levels of student diversity – St Andrews attracts far more international students than most other Scottish universities.
So if our student population is actually more diverse, why are we all being labelled as different versions of the same person? The textbook ‘yah’ stereotype is evident in many British universities – particularly those with a Jack Wills shop – so why is it that St Andrews has bolstered this reputation?
As a direct result of this, many other features of St Andrews student life, such as the music or art scenes, are swamped by the overwhelming view that St Andrews students are all sport focused private school clones.
Even though I believe that the St Andrews student stereotype is untrue and unfair, perhaps I should focus less on the negative aspect of this, and be pleased that I am a student at a university that has its own character and student reputation.
We certainly do have a host of strange traditions at this University: mass running into the North Sea and shaving foam fights in fancy dress, so perhaps our tainted reputation amongst other student populations should be another of these oddities of the bubble?
I don’t think so. The offensive nature of the stereotype is not who we are all labelled as, but the fact it categorises every person as the same.
I suggest the best way to embrace our reputation is to highlight all of the different types of people the St Andrews student body represents, and through our achievements create a true character for the real students of our University.