UAStigma2014

Stereotypes reveal prejudices that go back decades

By Owen Auch, ‘15

When the Dublin Coffman girls basketball team found out that they’d be playing Upper Arlington in the regional semifinal of the state tournament, their response wasn’t positive. Junior basketball player Nicole Smiley said when the team found out their tournament matchup, her teammate captured the feeling of the whole team when she said, “I’ve never hated a school more than I hate UA.”

Such sentiments are typical for students at neighboring high schools, UAHS senior Chase Greenlee said.

“[Other students think of] the stereotypes that we all drive nice cars, dress preppy, that we all have nice clothes and [live in] the UA bubble,” Greenlee said.

But in a survey of 90 central Ohio high school students, only 17 percent said they feel negatively towards UAHS and its students, and over 70 percent said that negative stereotypes of UAHS and its students were only either “somewhat prevalent” or “not prevalent at all.”

Although these statistics show other high schools see UAHS students in a more positive light than many may expect, the stereotypes Greenlee stated are present in many communities. Of those who chose to list stereotypes at their school of UAHS students on the survey, more than 70 percent described students as spoiled or rich, and more than half described students as arrogant, snobby or pretentious.

While other Columbus high schools may not harbor negative feelings toward UAHS students, the stereotypes of UA students as snobby, spoiled kids from a wealthy suburb still carry weight. These negative stereotypes originate largely from the different wealth demographics of suburbs in the past, and are perpetuated by both the actions of members of the community and by sports rivalries with other schools.

Historic Wealth

It is not new for UAHS students to be labeled as rich and pretentious. The label of “wealthy snobs” has been attached to Arlington students for decades and originated largely from the historic distribution of wealth among Columbus suburbs.

In 1969, Upper Arlington’s median household income was $17,971, about 25 percent more than Bexley’s median household income of $14,390 and about 62 percent more than Hilliard’s median family income of $11,036. Dublin and New Albany were too small for economic statistics to be measured in 1969, with populations of less than 2,500.

Math teacher Daniel Rohrs, who graduated from Upper Arlington in 1979, described how the distribution of wealth between suburbs has changed since he was in high school.

“When I was in school . . . most of the schools in this area were smaller, [less affluent] schools,” Rohrs said. “But now when you go to them, there’s lots of money.”

Since 1969, the suburbs surrounding Upper Arlington have developed significantly and become more wealthy. However, the memory of the small and less wealthy suburbs surrounding UA overshadows the present reality: Today, UA is not even close to the richest suburb in the city.

According to 2011 economic data provided by city-data.com, Upper Arlington has a median household income of $90,976. This is similar to suburbs such as Bexley, with a median income of $89,820, and Hilliard, with a median income of $79,448, two suburbs Arlington was far wealthier than in 1969. Furthermore, New Albany and Dublin, towns too small to even be recorded in 1969, have surpassed UA in terms of income; New Albany has a median household income of $161,936 and Dublin has a median household income of $106,529.

But the idea of Arlington as the wealthiest community based on historic money persists. Smiley, though technically in a more affluent community, said she and her peers perceive UA and its residents as members of a community with a lot of “old money” where students are born into “rich homes.”

Smiley said this idea, brought about by the different wealth distribution of Columbus suburbs in the past, prompts her classmates to stereotype UAHS as “snobby and mean.”

Perpetuation

Although the idea of Upper Arlington as a community of rich snobs originated from the historic wealth distribution of suburbs, it is often perpetuated by UA students who, fueled by community pride, make comments that encourage negative stereotypes.

“I specifically remember being in high school and after I first started teaching here then, there were different sporting events I went to where the student section from Arlington would chant, ‘You’re gonna work for us one day,’” Rohrs said. “Those kinds of comments don’t go over well.”

Even seemingly insignificant encounters between UA students and students from other high schools can reaffirm negative stereotypes. Smiley described a time last year when she was at UAHS for a basketball game and stopped to look at the natatorium.

“This girl came up to me and said, ‘You need to get out of here… you probably shouldn’t be here since we beat your swim team,’” Smiley said.

This encounter, along with others, has contributed to Smiley’s negative feelings towards UA.

“They think they’re better than us,” she said.

Comments and encounters like these give negative stereotypes that originated decades ago the fuel to continue.

The Role of Rivalry

Athletics and the rivalries that come with them also help to keep negative stereotypes of Upper Arlington alive. Survey results show that Arlington’s rival high schools, Dublin Coffman and Hilliard Davidson, feel about 18 percent more negative towards UAHS and its students than other central Ohio high schools. Furthermore, students from UA’s rival high schools also report that negative stereotypes of UAHS and its students are 14 percent more prevalent than at other central Ohio high schools.

According to Greenlee, a fullback and line backer on UA’s football team, the week leading up to a game with a rival like Hilliard Davidson is intense, with up-tempo practices and plenty of team activities. This intensity and desire to win is easily translated to animosity for the rival high schools and the players on their team.

UAHS football and strength coach Brian Coleman said most students don’t hold grudges, but he often sees negativity from other high schools’ students.

“I can definitely feel that a lot of other schools take a lot of pride in beating us,” Coleman said. “For basketball games you see a lot of schools, they dress in a preppy way to kind of mimic Upper Arlington. I think sometimes those things hit below the belt; they’re not completely accurate and fair.”

Coleman believes many of these stereotypes are perpetuated by jealousy other students have of Upper Arlington.

Greenlee said he has experienced the negative effects of UA’s football rivalries as he has met students from other schools.

“When I come in contact with people from other districts that do play football, they have that same stereotyped mentality,” Greenlee said. “They obviously have that grudge against us.”

Coleman believes that the best opportunity to see how much sports and rivalries have perpetuated negative stereotypes of UA students is at a basketball game. This is because basketball games put students of opposing high schools in close proximity to one another, compared to sporting events like a football game, where an entire field might separate the two teams and their fans.

“When it’s right there in your face, it becomes really clear what they really do think of us,” Coleman said.

Stopping the Stereotype

Although the level of negativity towards Upper Arlington from other Central Ohio high schools is relatively low, negative stereotypes brought on by historic economic conditions persist. These stereotypes are often sustained by the actions of Arlington students, whether it be their words in encounters with students of other high schools or by their conduct and participation in athletics.

Rohrs believes, however, that if students are more careful with how they speak and act, the stereotype of spoiled arrogance would begin to diminish.

“I think that if we would make a conscious effort to not perpetuate that stereotype it would fade a little bit more, or fade quite a bit more,” Rohrs said

Read all the survey responses online here