A microcosm of a divisive national trend has manifested itself amongst the culture of campus life.
The stereotypical north-south ideology adopted by political parties is one many Furman students are guilty of employing.
The 2020 election has raised interesting questions about the nation’s ideological divide. Yet polarization is not isolated to the political sphere. Cultural differences are omnipresent and glaringly obvious—my time at Furman has proven as much.
I am from the North. Boston, Mass. When looking for colleges, I did not narrow my search geographically. Instead, I looked all over the country and ultimately decided on Furman simply because it was a school I loved. Its location was of little concern to me—not having spent much time in the Southern United States, I did not think there would be a significant culture difference detectable between regions of the same country. Sure, I was prepared for mild regional shock. I anticipated encountering slight divergences in custom, which I assumed I would quickly adapt to. In hindsight, I was blatantly unprepared for the striking regional divide that was to come.
There were a few differences between South Carolina and home that fit my earlier description of regional shock. Public manners, though seemingly a small gesture, stand out as the most welcome change. The lengths to which individuals will go to hold a door, initiate small talk with complete strangers or even continually use the labless of “ma’am” and “sir” are stark differences to the cultural tendencies I learned growing up. The term “culture shock” is too heavy a term to attribute to these subtle changes—that term is reserved for the more stark discrepancies I have noticed between the two regionalities. Differences that hint at the larger polarization plaguing the country.
Quickly after coming to Furman I was labeled a Yankee. Previously, I had associated the term Yankee solely with the New York baseball team and, being a Red Soxs fan myself, I was hugely insulted to be associated with the term. Yet I soon learned that, in this context, Yankee was used to describe anyone from above the Mason Dixon line. It was coined to describe a set stereotype, attributable to anyone from an expansive geographic region that is entirely not one note.
In actuality I am hardly a Yankee (in the Southern sense of the word). I moved around the country and the world growing up and only lived in the north for several years. Yet my short residency in Massachusetts automatically qualified me, in my peers eyes, as the same as every single Northeasterner. Now, I have accepted the label as a sort of badge of pride, a nod at the more likeable aspects of where I am from, However my peer’s quickness to generalize me simply based on a single fact was illuminating—I was judged based on a location I hardly shared deep associations with. In the same way that candidates are often expected to defaultly sweep one region, I was assumed to be the same as all of those who hailed from my state, or even the seven states that make-up the northeast. However, just as the 2020 election proved the above-mentioned political assumption to be untrue, my geographic dissociation with the term Yankee highlights the falisty in this societal labeling.
The ease and familiarity with which people refrence the Civil War, slavery and Reconstriction is also opposed to the rhetoric used in the north. Back home, these are historical events. They are long in the past, lessons that we study in classes to learn a better way forward for the future. It was not until I came to Furman that I learned of the paralleling dialogue these events can inspire.
I have been a part of many conversations here that make it seem like these historical events happened yesterday. Several people even continue to argue about who “won” the Civil War. These diverging narratives play into the larger theme of revisionist history that has become a large part of political rhetoric as of late. When a simple change in latitude indicates a larger switch in the nation’s historical recounts, it is easier to see why geographic polarization is so inflamed.
Coming to South Carolina for college has opened my eyes to a shocking, and ideologically archaic, divide that I naively believed to be nonexistent before Furman. This divide does not dictate the actions of every student, it is a noticeable character trait of many. While manners and customs offer a pleasant introduction to Southern life, there have been other cultural changes that were less positive. I came to Furman expecting to find students who believe in a unified identity of “American,” but sitting below many’s perceptions of national cohesion lay a Southern identity that excludes and judges anyone from above Virginia—one we clearly see playing out on a national stage in voting patterns and campaign strategy.