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Like Race, Regionalism Can Be Cause for Bias

News Feature

By Janet C. Chang

Wes B. Gilchrist '98, an Alabama resident, was having dinner one night with a friend. In the middle of the conversation, his companion suddenly couldn't contain himself any longer.

"He just blurted, 'I hate the South,'" Gilchrist says. "He said he can sense that all Southerners are racist and hate people from the North."

At Harvard, where students have spent years protesting against sexism, racism and homophobia, there is still one bias many feel free to flaunt: regional prejudice.

"That offended me--that he would make a blanket statement like that," Gilchrist says.

While some students say they face prejudice based on their geographical origin, others find regionalism a source of solidarity and a starting point for friendships. Like ethnic or religious groups, people from the same region have common bonds, students say.

"I bond with people from the Midwest," says Lisa L. Streyffeler '97. "We look at life in the same way."

Like race, region can be a basis for tension and controversy. In 1991, as an expression of Southern pride, Bridget L. Kerrigan '91 put a Confederate flag in her window, drawing protests from several campus groups.

Kerrigan said at the time that she felt oppressed because her fellow students did not acknowledge Southern "honor and grace and dignity."

Regional Prejudice

Today, no one is protesting over regional sentiment, but students say prejudice based on region can be a serious problem.

"I've had people joke, and it's a jest, but still, you can tell," Gilchrist says. "They have these preconceptions."

The problem is often particularly acute for Southerners, who say their accents often draw scorn from fellow students.

"Some people are determined that you must be a redneck and you have 14 uncles named Joe Eddie," says Audra A. Hale '98, who is from Mississippi.

But stereotyping doesn't just happen to Southerners, students say.

"I have a good friend from down South who insists he would never marry a girl from the North," says Allison M. Villafane '98, who is from New York. "He says we're rude and domineering."

Californians say people from other regions often make surf jokes and political assumptions about them.

"People think that everyone from Berkeley is really liberal--that it's populated by a bunch of hippies singing songs about peace," says Rachel H. Garlin '96, who is from Berkeley, Calif.

Not all regions, however, come with a stereotype.

"When I mention Buffalo, people think of snow, football, buffalo wings--none of which reflect on me," says Charles A. Goodman '97, who is from New York. "Buffalo isn't a very distinct place."

Students from the Midwest say they face much the same situation. In fact, fellow undergraduates sometimes can't even tell their states apart.

"With the Midwestern states, people get mixed up as to which is where and what we grow. People always mix up Iowa, Idaho and Ohio," says Streyffeler, who is from Iowa. "One woman once thought my friend was from 'Ohiowa.'"

Although stereotyping does occur, undergraduates say that usually Harvard students look deeper.

"I don't think people care where I'm from," Streyffeler says. "There's no real animosity. It's fun to be a little different and meet people from different places."

Regional characteristics can also be a source of humor: there is great entertainment value in the various accents, students say.

"People always tell me to do 'Run, Forrest! Run!'" Hale says, in a reference to celluloid football hero and Alabaman Forrest Gump.

New Yorker Villafane is "often asked to say 'water' and 'coffee,'" she says.

Regional Identity

Region can also be a source' of solidarity for students, who say geographic origin is a basis for friendships.

"California has so many natural disasters--earthquakes, fire, drought--common things that draw people together," Garlin says.

When there are few students from a region, they tend to find each other.

"Southerners have a regional bond--particularly here where we're a minority," Hale says.

In fact, there is a Texas Club for Lone Star State natives trapped in Massachusetts. Club meetings usually feature streak, country music and Lone Star beer.

"We're students all the way up in Boston," says Lawrence T. Huynh '97. "Houston and Dallas are really far away. Lots of kids want to go home to work, and long-distance job searching is very difficult. We're trying to have more communication and links with the Harvard Clubs back home."

Students say conversations with people from their regions of the country can take on a ritualistic quality, centering on certain themes. Sports are an important one, students say.

"If you're from the South, someone's bound to mention football," says Alex T. Liesegang '98, who is from Florida. "It's so big there. It's like life or death."

Current events, weather and colloquialisms also provide common ground.

"Before the elections, whenever I talked to anyone from Alabama we'd talk about that," Gilchrist says.

"We get together and talk about how much warmer it is," says Herman A. Sanchez '97, who is from California. "How we could be wearing shorts."

Students also talk about--and in--their common regional lingos. Southern Californians, for instance, say they miss their native "Spanglish."

A quick survey of the term for "soft drink" revealed that the fizzy drink is "Coke" in some parts of the South. It's "soda" in Florida and on the East Coast, and "pop" in much of the Midwest.

"We always discuss how much better 'y' all' is than 'you guys,'" Hale says. "It's not sexist. It flows."

Students can also talk about stereotypes others share about their region.

"We tend to joke about what other people think," Streyffeler says. "My debate partner is from Wisconsin, and we'll just sit there and tell jokes about cows, corn and cheese.

Sanchez jokes about the "valley boy" image others have of California.

"I'm from the Bill and Ted area," he says.

Source of Pride

For most students, region is not just a common bond, but also a source of pride.

"I don't know exactly what it is," says Frank O. Hogan '97. "Every ad and road sign has the Texas flag or the shape on it."

"There's lots of pride in the state that you don't see in other states," Huynh says of Texas.

For other regions, the source of pride is different.

"We're the car capital of the world," says David G. Ewing '98, who is from Michigan. "We really are the heartbeat of America."

"I'm liberal, and I like the way New York is connected with liberalism," Villafane says.

Regional pride and identity taken to an extreme, however, can cause tension. In 1991, students reacted to Kerrigan's flag with protests, eat-ins and a publicly-displayed Nazi swastika flag.

Nigel W. Jones '91, a Kirkland House resident at the time, said he found the Confederate flag offensive.

"People will tell you that the flag means a lot of different things," he said in February 1991. "It stands for white supremacy and it stands for Slavery. It is a symbol of the white South."

Kerrigan countered that her flag was simply a demonstration of affection for the South.

"I don't understand why people can sever the negative connotations from every flag except mine," she said.

But today such tensions over region are relatively rare. Regional variation is an accepted part of Harvard's diversity, says Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57.

"There's a greater degree of tolerance and understanding," he says. "People don't feel quite as isolated or out of place.... By and large, regionalism does not have that much of an effect, because we are not a regional school."

Regional pride is a good thing, students say, not a reason for tension.

But if anyone attacks her state of origin, Streyffeler says, she may be ready to stage a protest.

"Heavens!" she says. "I'll defend lowal"CrimsonGabriel EberALLISON M. VILLAFNE '98 says Northerners face bias as well.

Not all regions, however, come with a stereotype.

"When I mention Buffalo, people think of snow, football, buffalo wings--none of which reflect on me," says Charles A. Goodman '97, who is from New York. "Buffalo isn't a very distinct place."

Students from the Midwest say they face much the same situation. In fact, fellow undergraduates sometimes can't even tell their states apart.

"With the Midwestern states, people get mixed up as to which is where and what we grow. People always mix up Iowa, Idaho and Ohio," says Streyffeler, who is from Iowa. "One woman once thought my friend was from 'Ohiowa.'"

Although stereotyping does occur, undergraduates say that usually Harvard students look deeper.

"I don't think people care where I'm from," Streyffeler says. "There's no real animosity. It's fun to be a little different and meet people from different places."

Regional characteristics can also be a source of humor: there is great entertainment value in the various accents, students say.

"People always tell me to do 'Run, Forrest! Run!'" Hale says, in a reference to celluloid football hero and Alabaman Forrest Gump.

New Yorker Villafane is "often asked to say 'water' and 'coffee,'" she says.

Regional Identity

Region can also be a source' of solidarity for students, who say geographic origin is a basis for friendships.

"California has so many natural disasters--earthquakes, fire, drought--common things that draw people together," Garlin says.

When there are few students from a region, they tend to find each other.

"Southerners have a regional bond--particularly here where we're a minority," Hale says.

In fact, there is a Texas Club for Lone Star State natives trapped in Massachusetts. Club meetings usually feature streak, country music and Lone Star beer.

"We're students all the way up in Boston," says Lawrence T. Huynh '97. "Houston and Dallas are really far away. Lots of kids want to go home to work, and long-distance job searching is very difficult. We're trying to have more communication and links with the Harvard Clubs back home."

Students say conversations with people from their regions of the country can take on a ritualistic quality, centering on certain themes. Sports are an important one, students say.

"If you're from the South, someone's bound to mention football," says Alex T. Liesegang '98, who is from Florida. "It's so big there. It's like life or death."

Current events, weather and colloquialisms also provide common ground.

"Before the elections, whenever I talked to anyone from Alabama we'd talk about that," Gilchrist says.

"We get together and talk about how much warmer it is," says Herman A. Sanchez '97, who is from California. "How we could be wearing shorts."

Students also talk about--and in--their common regional lingos. Southern Californians, for instance, say they miss their native "Spanglish."

A quick survey of the term for "soft drink" revealed that the fizzy drink is "Coke" in some parts of the South. It's "soda" in Florida and on the East Coast, and "pop" in much of the Midwest.

"We always discuss how much better 'y' all' is than 'you guys,'" Hale says. "It's not sexist. It flows."

Students can also talk about stereotypes others share about their region.

"We tend to joke about what other people think," Streyffeler says. "My debate partner is from Wisconsin, and we'll just sit there and tell jokes about cows, corn and cheese.

Sanchez jokes about the "valley boy" image others have of California.

"I'm from the Bill and Ted area," he says.

Source of Pride

For most students, region is not just a common bond, but also a source of pride.

"I don't know exactly what it is," says Frank O. Hogan '97. "Every ad and road sign has the Texas flag or the shape on it."

"There's lots of pride in the state that you don't see in other states," Huynh says of Texas.

For other regions, the source of pride is different.

"We're the car capital of the world," says David G. Ewing '98, who is from Michigan. "We really are the heartbeat of America."

"I'm liberal, and I like the way New York is connected with liberalism," Villafane says.

Regional pride and identity taken to an extreme, however, can cause tension. In 1991, students reacted to Kerrigan's flag with protests, eat-ins and a publicly-displayed Nazi swastika flag.

Nigel W. Jones '91, a Kirkland House resident at the time, said he found the Confederate flag offensive.

"People will tell you that the flag means a lot of different things," he said in February 1991. "It stands for white supremacy and it stands for Slavery. It is a symbol of the white South."

Kerrigan countered that her flag was simply a demonstration of affection for the South.

"I don't understand why people can sever the negative connotations from every flag except mine," she said.

But today such tensions over region are relatively rare. Regional variation is an accepted part of Harvard's diversity, says Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57.

"There's a greater degree of tolerance and understanding," he says. "People don't feel quite as isolated or out of place.... By and large, regionalism does not have that much of an effect, because we are not a regional school."

Regional pride is a good thing, students say, not a reason for tension.

But if anyone attacks her state of origin, Streyffeler says, she may be ready to stage a protest.

"Heavens!" she says. "I'll defend lowal"CrimsonGabriel EberALLISON M. VILLAFNE '98 says Northerners face bias as well.

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