Alicia Wang / Sun Graphics Editor

Students from underrepresented states at Cornell share their experiences.

September 8, 2019

‘You’re My First!’: Cornellians from Underrepresented States on Misconceptions and Hometown Pride

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While students from Westchester have 679 peers from their county at Cornell, some students have fewer than 100 from their whole state. From Kansas to North Dakota to Vermont, current students shared their experiences in hailing from a state which encompasses fewer than 1 percent of the Cornell undergraduate population.

These students expressed similarities in facing lots of weird misconceptions, being excited to meet other students from their states and finding new pride in their home states.

“They think cowboy and they picture this Wild West with gun fights and saloons,” Luke Meyer  ’22 said about being from Arizona. “I think it’s funny, because we are quite civilized and urban even!”

Assuring that he’s “sadly” not a cowboy, the sophomore from North Phoenix said that many misconceptions about his state continue to persist. 100 students hailed from Arizona in fall 2018, according to Cornell’s Institutional Research & Planning department.

“There’s a political leaning people believe I might have, based on being from a red state,” Meyer said. “People don’t have an idea of the racial makeup in Arizona, either. There’s actually a lot of diversity in Arizona, especially being a border state.”

However, people stating these ideological misconceptions can be a wedge into deeper conversations, according to Meyer, who says he’s then able to clear up the assumptions and offer his own views.

Reflecting on his freshman year, Meyer said that not having an extra thing in common with his coastal peers and not knowing anyone here was initially sad and stressful.

“But I think there are lots of positive parts,” Meyer said. “There’s a unique connectivity of people that come from Arizona. The similarities with other people from the same place [are] so condensed, so [the connection] is really amplified.”

“I’ve only met a couple other students from my state,” said Katarina Schwartsman ’20, who’s from Boise, Idaho. In fall 2018, there were eight Cornell students from the whole state.

Schwartsman recounted a story of encountering a student wearing a hat that had a picture of Idaho on it from her freshman year. When they realized they were both from Idaho, he said he had heard “so much” about her — “the other kid from Idaho” — according to Schwartsman.

Generally, Schwartsman said people are confused when she says she’s from Idaho. They mess up and think of Iowa or ask if it’s in the midwest. She also said people tease and say they’re surprised people actually live there.

“If you’re not from a serious U.S. metro area and you’re not from a place people know a lot about, people tend to generalize,” Schwartsman said.

“I get a lot of potato comments and people are like, ‘Did you ride to school on a horse?’ she said. “But I spent most of my childhood in suburbia.”

“People expect me to be very familiar with corn. They expect me to be some agrarian farm-boy,” said Max Albicker ’20, who’s from Evansville, Indiana. “My friends don’t always realize I’m from the third biggest city in Indiana, and my city is bigger than their suburban towns. I’ve never touched any farming equipment, so it’s an easy stereotype, but it’s definitely not true.”

Albicker said he didn’t know anyone from his state, which had 57 representatives in fall 2018, before coming to Cornell. Since then, he’s met two others from Indiana and one from his high school, stating that it is uncommon for him to find someone from Indiana.

Albicker has since been able to bring his new Cornell friends to Indiana — he’s proud of where he’s from and to “provide a piece of Americana and show off the midwestern vibes.”

“A lot of people see me as an exotic American, because they don’t have much familiarity with the Midwest,” Albicker said.

“People have told me that Kansas is in the South,” said Maame Britwum ’20, who’s from Lawrence, Kansas.

Britwum explained that people are often mistaken, asking about what “kind of roads” are in Kansas and if she lives on a farm. She clarified that she lives in suburban Kansas — in a college town larger than Ithaca.

“Whenever I see a Kansas shirt, I rush up to people to ask if they’re from Kansas,” Britwum said.

Sometimes they just like University of Kansas sports teams, but when they happen to be from Kansas, where 33 Cornellians hailed from in fall 2018, Britwum is excited, because “there are so few of us out here.”

Britwum attributes this to Midwestern hospitality, and said that it extends to the rest of the Midwest. Even with Nebraskans, her response is always, “Oh my gosh, it’s so good to see you!”

While she’s tired of the Wizard of Oz jokes, Britwum is happy to be “everyone’s first Kansan.”

For Becky Borrazzo ’22, who hails from South Burlington, Vermont, “people generally associate Bernie Sanders, cheese, cows and maple syrup with Vermont.”

Generally, Borrazzo said that most people haven’t ever met someone from Vermont, but that their stereotypes of skiing and snow (and maple syrup) are pretty accurate: “My one complaint is that Cornell dining doesn’t give us real maple syrup,” Borrazzo said.

People don’t know much about Vermont, Borrazzo continued, “Once, someone last year thought that Vermont was in Canada,” she said.

But for Cody Haiskanen ’21, even before he tells people where he’s from, they often guess North Dakota, if not Canada, based off his accent. The junior from Fargo, North Dakota, was recruited for the men’s hockey team, but didn’t know anyone else from his state when he arrived on campus.

It wasn’t until this summer that he met another Cornellian from North Dakota. As of fall 2018, Haiskanen was one of four students from the whole state: “I was pretty shocked, to be honest,” Haiskanen said. “But it was cool to meet someone else from so close.”

It was Haiskanen’s turn to feel the shock that others’ faces express when he divulges that he’s from North Dakota.

Common questions for Haiskanen typically ask about things to do in North Dakota and the tenure of its winters ––which he said are definitely easier and warmer in Ithaca.

Even though people don’t know much about his state, Haiskanen said he likes being from an underrepresented state.

“It’s a cool way for people to remember you, especially at a place like Cornell,” he said. “Connecting with people from various backgrounds, it’s hard to be someone whose unique. But I actually am one of the few here from North Dakota, so people remember me a little more.”