Tuesday, November 3, 2015

On Refraining from Judgement: Dispatches from a School with an Out of State Majority

I am currently attending Brigham Young University (Go Cougars!) in the lovely Provo, Utah. We have a student population of over 30,000 and native Utahns are outnumbered 2 to 1. Most of them have never been to Utah beyond brief visits and haven't set foot of campus more than a few times since they got here. A lot of them are prone to snap judgments.
One day early on in the term, I was walking across campus with a Washington-raised friend. We passed the motorcycle and scooter section of the parking lot. She said it was a "Utah thing" because "No one rides scooters in Washington." I thought about it and realized that outside of BYU campus, I see about one scooter for every several hundred cars.
It's not a Utah thing. It's a college thing. Cars cost money and college students rarely need to go farther than the grocery store, so why buy one?
Recently I was eating dinner with a Texan friend and various other out of staters, They were talking about how Utahns have such weird and bizarre names.
According to the Social Security Administration, these were the most popular Utah baby names in our birth year, 1996:

1. Madison, Jacob
2. Jessica, Austin
3. Emily, Joshua
4. Megan, Tyler
5. Ashley, Michael
6. Sarah, Zachary
7. Rachel, Matthew
8. Alexis, Andrew
9. Samantha, Nathan
10. Hannah, Jordan

I know one Rachyl. For the other names, I never see variants beyond Hanna, Ashlee, and Meagan, the latter of which happens to be the names of my Wisconsin born roommate.
When I attempted to correct my Texan friend, she said I'd been rendered ignorant by growing up in Utah and couldn't recognize the oddities that surrounded me. So I politely rattled off a list of my friends names and sat back to smirk to myself. Was I really having this conversation with a Southerner?
When I was thirteen, I met a woman named Ann Parks. I asked if that was her full name, and she said no, it was her first. She was from the South. I could jump to the conclusion that Texas, being a Southern state, is full of nothing but Sue Ann and Mary Lou. I know this because I've actually met Southerners throughout my life. I have relatives who've been there. I know they're more than stereotypes. There were so many comebacks I could've used, but I refrained.
Two weeks ago I had to carpool with a boy from Colorado. He complained about Utah drivers the whole way there, but he knew so little about the Utah road system that when his friend in the backseat mentioned the wall (meaning the freeway divider) he looked around wildly, expecting to see what he termed a "Great Wall of Utah".
I'm starting to wonder if this toxic combination of ignorance and confidence is something unique to college students. But I've only been to one college. So I'll pass.
See what I did there?
I'm surrounded by people experiencing college and Utah for the first time. That's more likely the case.
When you're entering an unfamiliar place, you have an obligation to be humble and inquisitive, not self-assured and declarative. If you see something different from the way things are done back home, ask, "Is that a local thing?" before declaring it such on absolutely no evidence.
You have this obligation because everybody else is silently accommodating you. For the past few months I've patiently ignored people who mispronounce Utah place names, listened to complaints that scones here are closer to flatbread than real scones, and done math in my head to figure out where they want me to drive them when they ask for "One thousand four hundred south". "You mean hundred and fourteenth street? Sure, I know where that is."
Learn to think geographically. The world will thank you for it. 

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