We have a very divided campus at the University of Wisconsin. I’m not referring to race, political views or sexual orientation, although these divisions do matter. The most polarizing demographic divisions on campus are those of class and geography. Unfortunately for the campus social climate and the state of Wisconsin, divisions along these lines are becoming highly detrimental. You know what I’m talking about. There are the purebred native ‘Sconnies’ who have lived in the state all of their lives. They love the Packers, tailgating, brats, cheese products and hunting season.
And then there are the others, or as they are not so affectionately but far more commonly referred to as, the ‘Coasties.’ They tend to come from either coast of the U.S. or the Chicago area, but particularly from the Northeastern states and California. Their families also tend to be well-off economically (wouldn’t you have to be to afford out-of-state tuition here?).
You can tell apart Coasties and Sconnies by their distinctive clothing. The female Coastie often wears oversized sunglasses (whatever the weather) and will usually pile on an oversized North Face jacket, spandex pants and furry UGG boots when the temperature drops, while somehow maintaining her bright orange tan all winter. This is a stereotype, of course, but it is the prevalent perception on campus.
Frequently, Coasties are the butt of jokes from Sconnies. “How can they wear that?” I often hear. “Don’t they know they look ridiculous?” This is pretty ironic because I wouldn’t consider the rabbit-fur hat, plaid flannel coats and long underwear particularly fashionable either.
But I admit I’ve been annoyed by Coasties from time to time. They clearly think they’re better than everyone, right? They leisurely travel in five- or six-people-wide packs on the streets of Madison, slowing pedestrian traffic to a crawl. Hordes of them queue up in locales like Starbucks and Einstein’s Bagels like they own the places. They are always talking loudly and annoyingly on their cell phones, sometimes even when they are next to me on the elliptical machines at the SERF. Those damn Coasties are so not welcome here!
Like any country or culture, at some point, the natives begin to resent these outsiders who are so different. But Sconnies are particularly resentful of the perception that Coasties seem to make no efforts to integrate or become more like Sconnies.
Sconnies are like the abused hosts; Coasties come here for college, have a great time, and then graduate and leave, having taken Wisconsin’s hospitality for granted.
In fact, Coasties don’t even need to interact with the natives at all. Their social lives are structured by completely separate institutions. They start off living in different dorms, then move on to different fraternities and sororities than the ones that Sconnies join. It would be wrong to say that Sconnies never become friends with Coasties, because many do. But I’m convinced that a large proportion of each group is completely socially isolated from the other.
The university has a lot to gain by reducing the animosity between these two groups on campus. One way to do this is simply to encourage interactions between the groups. A big part of college is finding ways to get along with those who are different than you. It’s absolutely essential in a workplace to be able to tolerate those who might have bizarre social habits.
The university should consider creating incentives for the integration of the public and private dorms. If more first-year Coasties lived in Sellery and more first-year Sconnies lived in Towers, we’d be one step closer to a campuswide cross-cultural understanding.
I hesitate to suggest that UW should require that all freshmen live in the dorms for one year since there isn’t enough public housing for everyone. However, other universities — such as Michigan State University — have had success with this policy.
We should also consider how much we’re using Coasties as scapegoats for economic anxiety here in Wisconsin. A lot of Sc’nnies resent the perception that daddy pays for everything for Coasties while Sconnies work hard for the money. But if we?re concerned about the future of the state of Wisconsin, we should be encouraging as many out-of-state residents to work and study here as possible.
Wisconsin has a very serious brain drain, or, in other words, college graduates leaving to live and work in more appealing states after graduation. Wisconsin has among the lowest percentage of college graduates in the Midwest.
State government needs to create economic incentives for people to stay and to continue contributing to our economy. And yes, that means creating a welcoming environment for those from other states. Maybe Wisconsin benefits from having a little urban flavor from the coasts. Both Sconnies and Coasties can benefit from a less adversarial atmosphere on campus where no one feels alienated from a segment of campus life.
Ryan Greenfield ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in political science and economics.