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  /  Opinion   /  College: Why Don’t Pelicans Fly to the Scary South?

College: Why Don’t Pelicans Fly to the Scary South?

As one of the few seniors who will be going to a Southern school next year, I have been asked on numerous occasions by solely Packer people, “Are you scared of going to the South?” Before answering, I always take a deep breath and try to control my frustration. Knowing that stereotypes of the South are stirring in their minds, I have become hesitant to answer the question, “Do you know where you are going for college?” Upon realizing the insecurity I feel when responding, I was forced to step back and consider the self-enforcing social bubble that is always so criticized at Packer.

If we claim to be so eager to expand our worldview, then why are Packer people so scared of the South?  

Living in New York City and going to private school my whole life, I have unconsciously adopted an elitist perspective on the rest of the country. When I was going through the college process, I was skeptical of touring southern schools, despite the positive and attractive characteristics they had to offer. It took a lot of urging from my coaches, parents, and my college counselor before I reluctantly boarded a flight to unknown territory. What I found there surprised me; it was not as foreign as I expected, as I was met with welcoming strangers waving at me and wishing me a good morning.

The realities of the South were far different than the stereotypes that often came to my mind. When I thought of the South, I conjured up images of hillbillies in MAGA hats, confidently displaying their ignorance to the world. Contrary to my expectations, it was not as simple as that. When I got there, I was forced to confront not the realities of the South, but the realities of the coastal elite mindset that is pervasive throughout our country and within which Packer exists. Although I was expecting to be greeted by an ignorant population, it was actually I who brought the ignorance.

Now, how does this relate to Packer? A majority of Packer students tour and attend schools in the Northeast or on the West Coast, completely missing the so-called “fly over land” and the South. In the Student Center I once overheard a junior say, “ I swear to God if [the college counselors] put SMU on my list I am going to lose my mind.” Another student added, “My friend’s boyfriend is going to Vanderbilt, but wow, I could never imagine going to school in the South.”

This incredibly limiting mindset has, according to Naviance, dictated the schools to which Packer students often apply. Forbes’ top four southern schools have received only 46 applications from Packer in the past three years, with only three former students enrolling. On the contrary, Wesleyan, a prestigious liberal arts college nestled in Middletown, Connecticut, received 54 Packer applicants over the past three years, more than the top Southern schools combined. Wesleyan, frequently referred to as “Packer Upper Upper School,” is seen as similar to Packer, illustrating many students’ reluctance to step outside of the liberal bubble.

In fact, many students explicitly tell their college counselors to disregard Southern schools as a whole. One senior said, “I actively did not look for schools in the South, disregarding the schools themselves because I just didn’t like the idea of that.” Although college counselors try and provide students with a range of locations to look at, they often receive that response. The senior added, “Lisa was definitely not surprised by this. I doubt it’s her first time hearing this from a Packer student.”  

A current Packer junior, who is just starting the college process, has a similar perspective and plans on looking more on the coasts. When asked why, she said, “I think mostly because of things I’ve heard about the culture at those schools. I definitely think coming from a place like Packer, with a majority liberal community, it would be too much of a shift. I just don’t want that drastic of a change.”

Although the culture at northeastern schools more closely parallels that of Packer, seniors who have looked at Southern schools do not see the differences as a negative, with one noting that “the culture felt very spirited. Lots of pride for school and camaraderie around sports and school events. There’s a mix of people everywhere, North and South.”

I fully acknowledge my own reluctance to tour colleges in the South and how that ultimately came from a place of righteousness. Although it is easy for urban New Yorkers to believe that we are the most “woke” or “progressive,” I strongly urge everyone to consider our values and how they are mainly a product of our environment. As a liberal, I have noticed my own dismissal of other viewpoints and ability to deflect ignorance onto everyone else in the country instead of acknowledging my own. Educational institutions are going to have a range of people, backgrounds, and perspectives; by explicitly avoiding a location, it is only harming you and limiting the range of possibilities that could be explored.

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