IOEasy, LS&plAy, B-School pre-school. We’ve all heard jokes and stereotypes about various majors before, and maybe we’ve even coined some of our own. But as students at one of the world’s best universities, why is it OK for us to routinely put down each other’s concentrations?
It’s no exaggeration that nearly every major at the University is highly ranked, and, as a result, no student truly gets out easy. At one point or another, we’ve all pulled all-nighters in the library, spent weeks obsessing over every detail of a paper or been on the verge of a breakdown while struggling through problem sets. And yet, we hear our own voices rising, mocking each other almost every day. Program in the Environment majors are tree-hugging hippies who get to go camping for credit. Screen Arts & Cultures majors just watch movies for homework. Computer Science majors have no social skills because they spend all day locked up coding in their rooms. Pre-meds are neurotically competitive, doing whatever it takes to destroy the curve on organic chemistry exams.
I’m an Environmental Engineering major, and one might think that stereotypes haven’t developed against us yet because the program is so new. But in the one month since we’ve been around, I’ve heard that we’re the engineering misfits — the former civil engineers who found building bridges too difficult.
In fact, we’re all just trying to make it through college and hopefully add value to society one day. It doesn’t seem acceptable to say that one person’s degree is worth more than another’s just because of their major. At such a diverse school, the focus should be on celebrating the diversity of not just the students, but also of their areas of study.
Take the case of Industrial and Operations Engineering. There certainly may be students who elect this major because they think — because of stereotypes like “IOEasy” — it must require less effort than most other engineering majors. But, there are far more IOEs who do it because they’re genuinely interested in the subject matter. And it’s no secret that students who graduate from the University with IOE degrees have starting salaries that are much higher than many of their peers. So it doesn’t seem right to stereotype students of a certain major simply because of their shared passion or ambition.
Furthermore, what are we really trying to prove by making jokes about each other’s majors? Almost every student at the University is here because they stood out in high school. They were “special,” and that’s why they ended up at a school so prestigious. In an attempt to say that perhaps we’re still special, we’re still better, we still stand out, we cling to the one thing that inherently sets us apart from most of our fellow students — our major. On top of that, students pick up double majors, multiple minors — whatever it takes to distinguish themselves in a sea of more than 40,000 students.
The University has asked us all to “expect respect” through our actions and words. While it may initially seem harmless, bashing someone’s major is, ultimately, a form of disrespect. We’re not achieving anything by telling business students that their classes are unnecessarily easy or engineering students that theirs are unnecessarily hard. By stereotyping each other, we’re stereotyping ourselves as a body of students with superiority complexes. The hallmark Michigan arrogance that other schools accuse us of rears its ugly head each time we put down someone else’s major and, by extension, flaunt our own.
In the next few years, most of us will leave Ann Arbor with a degree in hand. And not just any degree, but a University of Michigan degree that’s respected around the world. The work it took to get this degree was by no means “easy,” by no means “playing,” by no means “pre-school.” Regardless of what we studied, we’ll become a part of the largest alumni network in the world. No matter where in the world we end up, we’ll proudly bleed maize and blue for the rest of our lives. What we studied here will probably matter as far as what we end up doing — what we thought of other people’s majors, or what they thought of ours, will mean nothing. So next time you’re inclined to poke fun at someone’s major, think first.