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September 20, 1991 - Image 6

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1991-09-20
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At first glance, Michigan
students might appear to be a
homogeneous body. But there is
tension beneath this apparently
unbroken surface.
Nowhere can this be seen as
well as in the mutually alien
atmospheres of the Michigan
Union, located in central campus,
and the North Campus
Commons, in the heart of
engineer country. The Union is a
magnet for all types of people. It
offers rooms for rent for special
occasions, a plethora of
restaurants in the basement, live
bands and hot concert tickets,
and, finally, several stores and a
travel agency. This diversity of
attractions reflects the wide
variety of students who are
drawn to use its services. By
contrast, the Commons is
sometimes regarded as little more
than an aesthetically pleasing,
albeit barren, place to spend any
amount of time. As such, it has
for many come to represent
engineering as a cold, empty, and
unfriendly discipline. With not
much more than a book and art
supplies store, an arcade room,
and a computing center, the
Commons offered little in the
way of interesting amusements.
Yet despite this reputation of
being an isolated, barren, and
lonely spot in which to build a
college, North Campus does in
fact have a great deal to offer
students who look hard enough.
Now in a reorganization phase,
the Commons is installing an
outlet of the popular Little
Caesar's Pizza on the main floor.
This effort will not only draw
more people to the usually quiet
and nearly empty building, but
will better reflect the active social
goings-on within the College of
Engineering. Maybe the easy
stereotypes don't fit so well after
But even stereotypes have
their roots in truth, don't they?
After all, the University's two
largest colleges - the College of
Engineering and the College of
Literature, Science, and the Arts
- are separate academic entities,
with different goals, methods,
and reputations that therefore
attract different types of
students. But in what ways are
they different, and by how
much? Does Engineering attract
only a group of spectacled,
pocket-protected "gearheads"
who become visibly upset at
Bohr's model of the atom? Does
LSA draw in only liberal, beer-
swilling, haphazard types, sights
fuzzily set on "grad school"?
Perhaps it's not quite like that...
Then again...
The images evoked by the
letters "LSA" usually play on the
extremely wide diversity of

students in the school. This
results in many different popular
stereotypes of LSA students,
from the "I was the (Honor
Society/Ski Team/Cheerleading)
Captain in high school and I feel
that being Hall Representative is
the first step towards the Oval
Office" over-achiever, to the toga.
wearing, brew-thirsty fraternity
"dude," to the world-famous Ann
Arbor hippie, replete with tie-die
tee-shirts, sandals, left-wing
ideals, and a mad penchant for
protesting anything. When these
images are combined with the
immense size of the college (800
faculty members, 3200 courses),
any picture of a coherent learning
environment can be lost. As a
result, the entire college can be
seen by outsiders as one enormous
collection of "major: undecided"
students without direction in
their lives. According to Art
Senior Martin Vloet, "It's like,
well, if you can't be an engineer,
and you're not going to be a

"I never even considered anything
Equally as important, the
stereotype, to the degree that it is
accurate, fails to address the
reasons for the conditions it
describes. LSA includes many
people who were attracted to
Michigan by the diverse
environment on which the
"anything-goes" images are based.
Residential College first-year
student Chandra Vostral claims
that most LSA students "don't
know what they want to do" -
and don't mind. For people in that
position, Vostral describes the
decision to specialize early-on as
"narrow. College is intended for
the students to experience
anything, everything... including
education and social aspects of
life... I just decided that
engineering wasn't my thing."
While some might write off
Vostral's statements as a
justification for flaky wishy-
washiness, her position can be

How We


ach Other

See Ei

By Matthew D. Pulliam (Engineering)
and W. Charles Penoza III (LSA)

engineering students who are as
socially involved as anyone else.
"There are quite a few people
involved in extracurricular stuff
like SAE (Society of Automotive
Engineers)," points out
Engineering sophomore Jared
Stein. And then, of course, there
are the University-wide social
events, which engineers attend as
much as anyone else: sports,
movies, concerts, plays, parties.
And, like the LSA stereotypes,
the popular image of the Engineer
contains a grain of truth but is
rooted in a cultural
misunderstanding. Michigan's
academic reputation draws in
some of the nation's best talents.
Many in the College of
Engineering came from the top of
their high school class. They are
accustomed to receiving high
academic honors, and justifiably
retain their desire to remain
focused in their studies. Many
have planned out at least a rough
idea of the way in which they
wish for their life to proceed, and
have the capacity to consider
college as a mere stepping stone to
a high paying job, a likely future
with an Engineering degree from
Michigan. Though this tends to
bring upon engineering students a
reputation of being too narrow or
too focused, the affected students
often find it to be a small price to
Engineering graduate student
and alumnus Rob Lepler believes
that one of the best ways to dispel
the stereotype of "isolationist"
engineers is for those engineers to
become involved in
extracurricular activities within
the University. Engineering
sophomore Elizabeth Johnston
already follows this advice. "I'm
rushing sororities... you'll find me
out on a Saturday night just like
everyone else," she says. And.
she'll probably keep socializing,
if Lepler is right. "Those who get

entirely on a small, vocal fringe,
most of whom are Rackham
students anyway. LSA students'
notion of a far-right North
Campus is similarly wide of the
mark; most engineers, like most
other students, are simply
apolitical. All in all, LSA is more
liberal than its northern
neighbor, but not to the degree
imagined by some.
Sex stereotypes are another
source of tension; a number of
LSA students tend to label
engineering females as
"masculine" for entering what
has been a male-dominated field of
study. "LSA has a lot more
women, but they like to pick on
engineers," joked Engineering
sophomore Brad VanDerWege.
The image of engineers as
politically apathetic
"conservative white guyts" is
probably based on a projection of
corporate America onto aspiring
engineers. (Try it sometime. The
statement, "I know someorw in
the engineering school" nearly
always is met with "What's his
name?" or "What's he study?") In
truth, approximately one quarter
of the engineers at Michigan are
women, and in some
departments, the ratio is much


are far more clearly defined than
those of LSA. The whole idea of
the "gearhead" or "vectorbreath"
is rooted in the familiar concept
of the "nerd". An engineering
student is seen as an insecure,
awkward, abnormally bright but
socially brain-dead white males.
They have been lampooned in
"Head of the Class," "Revenge of
the Nerds," and dozens of other
films and television series. In the
words of one LSA student,
"They're geeks, man!"
This situation is compounded
by the fact that engineers, no
matter where they live, are forced
to attend classes almost
exclusively in the great northern
hills of the "engineering campus,"
an out-of-the-way colony of the
University that reinforces the
stereotype that engineers are "out
of the mainstream' while keeping
them safely out of sight. Most
LSA students are content to stay
on the central campus, where a
large number of movie theaters,
bookstores, cafes, and restaurants
are always easy walking distance,
creating a true incentive for
students to get out and spend
some time in the city. It is not
surprising, then, that most LSA
students are happy never to
venture near North Campus, nor
is it all that surprising that some
tend to think of engineers as
overly focused, with no time for
relaxation or, say, a quick pool
game at the Union. This image of
engineers with "tunnel vision,"
seeing only their studies, is
involved generally stay
involved," he says. "Most of my
friends are from the organizations
I participate in."
"And never the twain
shall meet..."
Contributing further to the
division is the lack of an apparent

"need" for one group to associate
with the other. LSA students
predict that they will have little
contact with engineers after
college and vice versa, so no real
effort is made, on average, to
make friends in a wide variety of
fields. Extracurricular clubs are
often so specialized and field-
oriented that they discourage
casually interested students from
applying to groups that may
interest them, but are not in their
discipline. Crossover technical
programs like the Human
Powered Helicopter Team and
the Solar Car Team draw a wide
variety of students in such diverse
fields as business, mathematics,
physics, and public relations
together to work as a unit. Efforts
like these are an excellent way to
dispel stereotypes and encourage
constructive attitudes, but their
membership is limited and, for
obvious reasons, are not suitable
for everyone.

Another important factor in
the negative stereotyping is the
apparently opposed politics of the
two colleges. Speaking from a
neutral standpoint, Nursing
sophomore Katie Kemp states the
general view: "The students in
LSA are definitely seen as liberal,
and the students in the
engineering school... probably
more conservative."
"I think engineers are quite a
bit more conservative than the
rest of the University, and I think
that LSA is mostly Democrats,
the common type of people," said
This view is often carried to
inappropriate extremes.
Engineers' view of LSA as an
extremist, left-leaning body of
revolutionaries is based almost
perhaps the largest social barrier
between the two groups.
As with the LSA stereotypes,
there are glaring exceptions,

The Cat "T
Box or is
The friendly rivalry between
Engineering and LSA students is
well-known. The conflict, unique
to recent history, between the
arts and the sciences is as alive
and well now as it ever has been.
But there exists yet another
rivalry, one less well known. In
this case, it is between two
technical fields, engineering and
This contest is a matter of the
differences between theoretical
and applied science. According to
popular stereotype, physicists are
"lab-things," filled with awe at
the complexity of the Universe,
concerned less with engineering
questions like "When?,"
"Where?," and "How much will
it cost to build?" than with the
fundamental issue of "Why?"
This distinction in priorities and
interests has manifested itself in
one of the most bizarre,
confusing, and tangible products
of any debate ever. Schroedinger's
Erwin Schroedinger was a
twentieth-century physicist who
proposed a thought-experiment to
demonstrate what he thought
was the absurdity of the then-
new field of "Quantum
Mechanics," a worldview which
suggested, among other things,
that the condition of a particle is
undetermined until it is observed.

The Angell Hall Computing Center, which hundreds of LSA students use every day.

Matthew Pulliam/Weekend

rocket scientist or an architect...
you're going to be 'LS & Play."'
This stereotype, like all
stereotypes, has its glaring
exceptions. There is a large
number of LSA students who
have enrolled as deliberately as
any Engineering student, perhaps
intent on pursuing language
studies, history, or
communication. Take first-year
LSA student Philip Brenner, who
arrived with a firm picture of his
future. "I came here to study
political science," he comments.

easily defended using the stated
ambition of LSA to have its
students "achieve a breadth of
understanding in several fields of
study and depth in one or two,"
and to "receive exposure to
different ideas and ways of
thinking." To study Literature,
Science and the Arts is to study
our culture itself, the way
humans go and have gone about
the business of being human.
This is of great value for those
preparing to enter the social
mainstream in an age when

culture seems to mean less than
ever. For the student to whom a
degree is not everything - to
whom college represents not only
a chance to obtain a valuable
degree, but also a chance to study
many aspects of the human
experience - LSA is an
opportunity not only to be
trained in the ways of a
profession, but to learn.
On the other side of the paper
curtain, Engineering stereotypes

Matthew Pulliam/Weekend
This Formula race car was built by the society of automotive engineers. It placed fifth
in a national competition last spring.


September 20, 1991


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