Throughout the U.S., there are wide-sweeping stereotypes attached to each region. As colleges attract people from all over the country, there is a unique opportunity to look into the perceptions that students have about regions like the Midwest, and how those expectations match up with reality.
Students coming to Lawrence from outside the region had very specific ideas of what the Midwest would be like. Sophomore Morgan Edwards said that she “figured it would be flatter than it actually is.” She also added, “I always heard that people are super nice, which is true. And eye contact, I don’t like making eye contact and saying hello to people when I’m walking around, but people do it here, and strangers say hi to me, which is crazy.”
Junior Susannah Miller thought of the Midwest as being dominated by the country. “I come from a city,” she explained, “and I perceive the Midwest as being largely rural, so definitely less cosmopolitan than I’m used to, and more conservative than I’m used to.”
Freshman Jose Saldivar felt similarly, saying, “I expected farmers, tractors, country music, beer and cheese—that’s the gist of it.”
The Midwest natives at Lawrence were also aware of these kinds of ideas about their home, listing very similar stereotypes as students from other states. “I think people think it’s a lot of farm land, a lot of corn and cows. I think it’s true for a large portion, but we also do have cities, which aren’t really known about,” said freshman Rachel Taber.
Junior Ally Kurihara agreed, saying , “I think people think it’s very rural, and I’m from a very rural area so I think that’s kind of true.”
Sophomore Darren Deal focused more on the idea of friendliness that students like Edwards expected. “A lot of people that I’ve talked to from other places in the country have gotten here and been like, ‘Why is everyone smiling at me?’ So I guess like overly nice. For the most part, that’s pretty accurate. But a lot of people coming from other places… feel like it can be a little intrusive,” he said.
However, while these two sets of ideas match up pretty well, this does not necessarily mean that they are true. In fact, most students not from the region found that their ideas of what it would be like were not entirely correct. Edwards said that she was surprised when she found that “there are some hills, there’s some topography here.”
Miller also explained that her expectations that the Midwest would be rural weren’t entirely met. “For Appleton, I think [this has held true],” she said, “but I’ve also gone to the Twin Cities and Madison, and it’s different in the urban areas, but for some parts, it’s definitely more rural.”
Saldivar also found that “It isn’t quite what I expected, but there is some country stuff.” All of this goes to show that, even when there seems to be a clear-cut idea about a region or a place, it does not mean that it will necessarily be what you expect.