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Preconceived Notions Can Taint Rush for Everybody

Column by Erik S. Balsley
Sports Editor

Have you ever been mistaken for being someone you're not? It happens to me a lot. If I'm not mistaken for being Waldo I'm mistaken for being Jewish. I don't have a problem with these mistakes, but I have major concern with the superficiality that creates the mistakes.

With the Waldo matter, I discovered that I can not wear red stripes. When I do, my resemblance to Waldo is simply uncanny. I guess not being able to wear horizontal stripes is a small price to pay to remain anonymous (and unfound).

However, I'm more confused about being mistaken for being Jewish. Does it happen because I am very picky about bagels, shop a lot, can go through a mall without using the directory, and know some key Yiddish phrases? If so, the people making the mistake on this basis must have a limited knowledge of 5757 years of Jewish history and an even more limited understanding of the culture.

When I admit I am from Long Island, I get into even more trouble. Just because people have some preconceived notion of the place (thanks a bunch Amy Fisher), Iam expected to behave a certain way. If something that I find weird happens that fits into this preconceived notion I often get the great line, "Oh you're from Long Island, that's why."

In all these cases, preconceived notions that other people have had have resulted in incorrect assumptions about me. Some may even say these preconceived notions others are examples of stereotypes. The trouble is that as with most stereotypes, these misperceptions are only skin deep.

For those who are just starting MIT and hoping that their next few years here will be free of stereotypes that may have plagued them during high school, think again. You're about to face them head-on in a little something called rush.

Freshmen will quickly develop their own set of notions by visiting living groups and talking to other freshmen about them.

"That place is weird."

"That place is cool - they brought us white-water rafting."

The dormitories and independent living groups have their preconceived notions already and that's part of how they choose the people making up their floor or living group.

"Stop by again during in-house rush; we think you would like it here."

"I'm sorry you don't fit the character of our house. Have you tried looking at"

That last one is an example of flushing. Some of you will get flushed. I did.

In a process as time constrained as rush, it is difficult for both sides of the equation -upperclassmen and freshmen - to fully develop an understanding of each other. Decisions will therefore be made by everyone on the notions people get in the three days considered rush.

In my case, I obviously did not fit the preconceived notion of the living group that flushed me. In my first two days at MIT, I got a rejection that would last for at least four years. Rush after this was anything but a rush for me.

At first I was angry and hurt. They flushed me. They didn't get to know me. They didn't ask the right questions. As the years passed, I began to see that perhaps I didn't quite ask the right questions of them.

To begin with, I didn't do the reading I should have when I got the fraternity booklets sent out the summer before my arrival. I was operating totally on my perceptions made during short visits to make my decisions on where I wanted to live. I also wasn't exactly the best of conversationalists. I never quite said anything substantial about myself, my interests, or plans -other than that I was from Long Island.

It is important to get beyond the surface as quickly as possible in something as crazed as rush to prevent lasting scars. Freshmen need to present a more full picture of themselves and their interests. They also need to ask more than surface deep questions to upperclassmen.

Upperclassmen need to get as much information from prospective freshmen. They should keep an open mind when they talk to freshmen and get beyond their physical appearance and demeanor.

Basically, a successful rush depends upon getting beyond surface impressions and notions. If it doesn't, those preconceived notions will affect the process in a very bad way and create some possibly permanent scars.

A bad rush in the big scheme of things is not that terrible. Yeah, it hurts like hell, but what is more important is what you learn through the pain.

In order to break the more pervasive stereotypes, individual relationships must be formed. They will not vanish overnight, and anyone who thinks they can should take some more Prozac.

If you do it correctly, you will leave rush with at least one lasting connection to someone you would not have imagined you would be friends with at first. That's at least one person whose stereotypes and preconceived notions have been partially diminished.