I had never felt so labeled in college until I braided bread. Before I explain that statement, let me back up a little.
What were you in high school? A jock? A popular girl? A nerd? A band geek? At 15, most of us walk into high school knowing we’ll be labeled. I came into a highly competitive “nerd” school and what I found were geeks, super geeks and slackers—obviously not the collection of labels that most expect. For us, the social hierarchy was based almost entirely on how much you cared about school and grades, and whether or not you made the cut to join the National Honor Society. The stereotypes you hear about in movies never existed.
Walking onto the University of Texas’ campus for the first time as a student, I noticed a subtle (and at times, not-so-subtle) hierarchy. Above all else, of course, is football. We are in Texas, after all. Then comes the popular Greeks, another hierarchy in itself that tends to be quite confusing when you aren’t involved in Greek life. But you also encounter spirit groups, artsy music majors and nerdy engineering students. It was almost as if the stereotypes I had forgotten about, or believed didn’t really exist, came to life in college.
Why does this matter? I came to UT with a close friend who decided to go Greek. I have nothing against sororities; my friend loves Greek life and I totally respect that. I just know that it isn’t for me. So if, like me, you choose not to affiliate yourself with Greek life, you’re automatically labeled a GDI (God Damn Independent) by the Greek population, a term used to describe non-Greeks for decades.
I became very conscious of my status as a GDI when I volunteered with a group called Challah for Hunger. The gist of it is you make, braid and then sell bread called challah to raise money and awareness for hunger. A universal cause, right?
Except I didn’t immediately feel united with the other volunteers. Walking into the kitchen where the bread was made, I quickly realized that the experience was going to be challenging for me. I’m naturally very shy. I knew it would be difficult to talk with the other volunteers; the majority of them were sorority girls. The first thing someone asked me (besides my name, of course) was which sorority I belonged to. The fact that the volunteers almost exclusively discussed things I took no part in, like frat parties and Jewish youth group conventions, made me feel even more out of place. I certainly didn’t fit in with these girls.
After about 15 minutes of standing there feeling completely useless and in the way, I finally realized that I wasn’t doing any good by being afraid to interact with the girls. I was there to braid bread, and so I had to at least try to make a challah. So, grabbing some dough, I began to twist. As I joined the other girls, I learned they didn’t bite.
Every girl there had an interesting story to tell, and I found myself asking questions and laughing along with the group. Before I knew it, it was time for me to go. I’ll never forget the kindness of these girls. Just because they were all members of a sorority whose name I forgot exactly five seconds after being told—just because most of them could connect on level that I couldn’t—didn’t mean that we couldn’t bond over the fact that we were doing something good for our community. We all cared, and for a few hours, that was all that mattered.
Throughout my college career so far, I’ve met all kinds of people. While most have been extremely nice, others can be condescending or downright rude because of my apparent lack of social standing. Instead of being intimidated by those around me, I’ve learned to not only avoid hiding my GDI status and blend in with the crowd, but to stand out and remain faithful to myself. If I wear yoga pants and drink Starbucks, it’ll be because I want to wear yoga pants and have coffee, not because all of the sorority girls are doing it.
On the other hand, I’ve learned not to judge others for looking down on me. When I decide right away that I don’t have anything in common with someone, it’ll be a miracle if I’m able to relate to them. If I let go of my own misconceptions, however, who knows what similarities we might find?