Breaking Down Your Stereotypes

Original article written for TEDxKEA , available here:

Turn on, Tune in and Shatter your Stereotypes

The Folly of Stereotypes

We are all guilty as charged when it comes to being horribly wrong about some of our first impressions. The shaggy haired, dodgy – looking bloke that just so happens to be a world class professional skater or the swank businessman clad in a suit who appears haughty and posh but, as it turns out, is a humble social entrepreneur with fairytale dreams of a better tomorrow. It is fair to say that, true to the old adage, a book must never be judged by its cover.

Let’s hit the nail on the head here by looking at a very recent example from our own dear Copenhagen; the young man of Middle Eastern background who appeared nervous as he studied literature related to terrorism for an upcoming exam whilst sat on the train last week. Mistaken for a terrorist by a fellow commuter, Alisiv Ceran turned out to be a keen university student from a modest background and of a pleasant disposition. The police and media hunt that ensued was nothing less than Post 911 tragicomic Hollywood material. Wholeheartedly unnecessary and blown out of proportion, this particular situation depicts the sort of fruits that are borne of stereotyping and profiling. The support that has gone out to Alisiv since ratifies the need for us a society to remind ourselves yet again of the perils of judging things at face value. Yet in a world of so many contrasts and variations, surely, it is quite normal and within the scope of human nature to come to conclusions based on the appearances of things ,at least at first sight. Or is it ?

One of the underpinning visions of TEDxKEA is that of harnessing the educational potential inherent in the diversity of Denmark’s institutions of higher learning. Stitching this vision within the broader fabric of the TED brand, which aims, amongst other things, to give wings to ideas and dreams, it is blatantly obvious that collaboration across diversity needs to be an underpinning tenet throughout. More often than not, diversity within academia and other fields of life has come across as more of a vice than an asset. This is true of collaboration between each independent university as it is true on a micro level, from one student to another. Within the grander scheme of things, we and our forefathers are witnesses to the horrors of what can come of unchecked stereotyping and the cultivation of binary oppositions. Plato once professed that only the dead have seen the end of war. Only the living have the power to change Plato’s cynicism, and part of this, starts with binning stereotypes in favour of a more objective perspective.

Danish Universities, a Stereotype Story

Many of us are no doubt familiar with the stereotypical view of Copenhagen Business school students as posh rich kids interested in money – making, or the equally patronizing profiling of Roskilde University students as a collection of hippies who party their way through their curriculum and wind up with degrees that society has no use for. The same goes for students of Denmark’s Technical University (DTU) – here, the prevalent stereotype is one of socially inept nerds who are excellent at gaming and little else. Another flamboyant stereotype is that of KEA students being sub-par graduates who end up with a pseudo degree that is overlooked within the greater scope of academia. We can extend the game to Copenhagen University and its faculties, where tales have been told of students well versed in a finely tuned academic rhetoric that is rooted in good values but that is overly academic and excessive. Wherever you go, whichever institution of higher learning you choose, you will invariably find a well-established albeit poorly grounded discourse that tends to define universities, their alumni, staff and students. As with many instances of profiling, these stereotypes are both poorly researched and poorly argued for. As is the case with other examples of profiling, these stereotypes are made from the cultural relativism of high income earners as well as low ones. They exist across the board, nestled cancerously within the skeletal frame of society.

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The story of the prevalent stereotypes generic to different Danish universities and institutions of higher learning, some recognisable, some perhaps unfamiliar (Illustration : Barbara Nino Carreras)

Flipping The Coin

Having said all this, it is important to note that, like our swank businessman with his pristine suit and posh mien, Copenhagen Business School students can just as easily be humble, socially-engaged philanthropists with the drive and guile of adept salesmen. They could also be (and there are no doubt some who are) driving range junkies with little or no empathy for the socioeconomic inequalities of our world. Similarly, as in the case of our shaggy haired, dodgy-clad lad, RUC students may be pragmatic left – wing idealists with ambitious hopes and dreams for a free tomorrow just as they may be the best minds of their generation wasting their young years being pseudo hipsters in the fake post Beat generation world that has laid waste to the liberal nous of the sixties. Denmark’s technical university (DTU), in similar vein, surely consists of a fair share of socially-astute, intelligent I.T and engineering professionals mastered in their craft. Conversely, it too, houses the antimatter of the ideal student that it intends to mould. For their part, KEA students can carry their weight within the matrix of post-graduation life, creators and innovators with technical and practical skills that are needed in today’s webbed world. It goes without saying that there are undoubtedly some who lack these attributes and who will simply go on to ratify the negative profile associated with this particular institution of higher learning. Students of Copenhagen university, as well versed rhetoricians and semioticians, shoulder the responsibilities of providing an academic perspective to various matters. Equally, there are some who are literature geeks with the social skills of a plank of wood. What is obvious from all of this is that there are different types of students at the various institutions of higher education in this country. Additionally, more often than not, the stereotypes cultivated by those alien to the workings of each independent organisation localize on isolated elements within the grander scheme of things that do not necessarily provide an objective worldview of each situation.

TEDxKEA envisions a situation in which the things that make us different from each other are the very same things that make us richer as a society. We strive to work past the banal brutishness of stereotyping our fellow students in such a way that we fail to harness the fruits of a fertile and diverse student body in a country laden with opportunities for young people. We aim to fuse the shrewd and practical savoir-faire of students of Copenhagen Business School with the humanitarian humility and neo-idealist drive of Roskilde university comrades. To this mix we add the aerodynamic verve of the well-crafted DTU engineer and for good measure, why don’t we toss the creative flair of KEA students into it all ? Our boundaries ladies and gentlemen, are endless and infinite. Our ideas, y(our) ideas are but specks in this infinite tapestry of open sky at the moment but they can, and surely will, with co-operation, collaboration and a touch of friendliness, turn into an orchestra of soaring dreams.

Welcome to the show, please put away your stereotypes for the duration of this transmission, sit back and enjoy the ride.



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