The mystery of the Midwest: On breaking geographic stereotypes

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The College calls itself a place of diversity, a place where people from anywhere can come together to learn and make the world better for tomorrow. However, upon second glance, the geographical diversity of the College leaves a few questions unanswered. How is it that about half of our college is from New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts or California? And how do we have no students hailing from North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, Nebraska or Wyoming when our counterparts, such as Amherst and Wesleyan, have students from 48 states? Furthermore, what about the states that are somewhat “in the middle”? Spread out among the four years, there are fewer than 40 students from Ohio, fewer than 30 from Minnesota, only 10 students from Indiana and seven from Kentucky. What does this mean? Why are students from these parts of the country not as present, or even present at all, at the College? How can we effectively communicate with and respect each other when we make assumptions about people, especially about where they come from? 

Coming from Ohio, a state that’s only a brisk 12-hour drive away from Williamstown, I quickly noticed that within the first few days of being on campus that the College is dominated by students from the Northeast and California. While I’ve never visited California, and much of the Northeast is still foreign to me, I can understand that there’s a whole culture there that I’ve never encountered – things like the fact that public transport is extremely important and the expression “it’s brick out” somehow translates to “it’s really cold.” I love meeting people from these places because they’re showing me pieces of the world I’ve never seen before. When the situation is flipped, however, does the daily life of someone from Kentucky or Ohio matter as much? Or is it chalked up to containing hillbillies with nothing to do? Are we just a mystery no one wants to solve?   

These differences in location are some of the first things people learn about each other on campus. Upon meeting someone for the first time, often times the first questions that spill out of our mouths are “what’s your name,” “what do you want to study” and “where are you from.” And instantly, we make assumptions about others’ lives and how they grew up. These presumptions drive a wedge between us as students because we assume that the stereotypes of where others are from are true. And maybe pieces of them are. But despite that, we should see the person in front of us before we see our own assumptions of their home’s history.   

None of this Midwestern pride is to say that New York or California or New Jersey aren’t as great as people paint them to be (except for New Jersey, as the New Yorkers tell me it’s really not that great). These places sound amazing, and there’s a reason so many wonderful people come from there. But, next time you’re talking to your friend from the South, your friend from the West, your friend from the Midwest, maybe try and remember that they have stories too. Did you know Cincinnati, Ohio, hosts the second biggest Oktoberfest in the world or that Cold Spring, Minn., holds a county music, FireFest, every summer that people just adore? Just as you’re grateful for the culture of your home, I and many others are grateful for ours.  Maybe these stories don’t take place in some of the most dynamic places in the U.S., but we have our stories. And we love those memories just as much as you love yours.  

Ruth Kramer ’22 is from Maineville, Ohio.