Does college make us jaded or tolerant?

Allison Chase
Allison Chase

One sure-fire way to spot the freshmen (besides the keys around their necks) is to put someone with a relatively unusual appearance, like pink hair or a man in a kilt, in a room. The freshmen will be the ones gaping and staring, and the rest of us will just say, “Hey, man, how’s it going?” before giving them a high-five and asking them about last night’s math homework.

We see a lot of odd and bizarre things on campus, and that’s only to be expected when we have a diverse student body. Having multiple tattoos, piercings or unusual hair colors or modes of dress may shock the freshmen, but the rest of us have grown used to them and we learn to see the person behind the appearance.

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The guy with the kilt and tattooed angel wings on his back is the guy in our Spanish class who knows all the right answers. The blonde who co-plays as a vampire, complete with black lipstick, is our gentle, vegetarian suitemate who faints at the sight of blood. The Muslim woman wearing a hijab, turtleneck and long skirt every day is our brilliant lab partner. The one dude who looks like a homeless guy is a gentleman who always insists on treating us to lunch.

I was raised in an incredibly sheltered household. It’s not like we’re Amish or anything, but I was relatively innocent to the ways of the world.

When I arrived at CSU, the thing that shocked me most as a freshman was seeing how nearly half of everyone on campus at any given moment is smoking. The long line of smokers sitting outside of the Clark Building stunned me into silence, and the odor of nicotine remained in my nostrils for almost an hour. Not only that, but about four girls on my floor smoked, and in the middle of winter.

When ice covered the trees and there was about eighteen inches of snow on the ground, I would come back from class all bundled up to see the four of them, clad in booty shorts, flip-flops and oversized hoodies, standing on the heat grate, slaking their lust for nicotine, their little white legs shivering and covered with goosebumps—rather like raw chicken drumsticks. After about the second week of seeing this, my reaction went from, “Geez Louise, they’re going to freeze to death out there,” to simply, “Morons.”

I have long since stopped being shocked by the smokers or the people who come to class high and/or hungover. That doesn’t mean I approve of what they’re doing, but I’ve accepted it as part of life at CSU—and really, that’s all we can do. Not only do we accept nonconformists, we learn to embrace them. The alternative and unusual become normal and comforting, and instead of being shocked by each other’s differences, we learn to ignore them. Perhaps that’s the true meaning of tolerance; not by paying attention and being hyper-aware of respecting each tiny difference, lest you offend someone, but by not noticing them and accepting the people for being who they are.

Allison Chase is a junior creative writing major who can normally be found with a novel in one hand and a coffee cup in the other. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.