BY MADELINE SKRAK '18
“It’s so weird that I never see any boys there,” says a young woman referring to the Mount Holyoke College campus, which is just 4 minutes away from where she works at the Cumberland Farms gas station and a half-mile drive from where she grew up in South Hadley. Her plastic nametag reads “Cortney.”
“It’s because it’s an all girls school, stupid,” replied her coworker Randie, who is working beside Cortney in a matching visor, tagged with the station’s green leaf logo.
“Oh yeah, aren’t they all snobby?” chimes in a young girl with unkempt hair. She asks her older friends behind the counter for confirmation about what kids said on her last Michael E. Smith Middle School field trip.
“But yeah, everything south of the college is rich,” Randie says between interludes of inside jokes with her coworkers.
Mount Holyoke students occupy the school’s 800-acre campus — which is practically part of the women’s backyards — yet to them, these close neighbors are nothing but stereotyped strangers. Mount Holyoke students, or “MoHos,” represent 45 states and 72 countries. Of the 2,189 students, 27 percent identify as African American, Asian American, Latinx, Native American or multiracial. Despite this diversity, MoHos are still riddled by generalizations.
Not only do Mount Holyoke students invite the stereotypes of a typical college student, they also study at an institution that is private, expensive and single-sex, which lends a hand to a more complex handful of stereotypes. The recurring words and phrases used to describe Mo-Hos across several interviews included: privileged, intelligent, snotty, entitled, extremely liberal, bold, interesting, political, passionate, sheltered, empowered, friendly, granola, super nice, “lots of Asians,” approachable, motivated, weird and “has a large LGBTQ population.” The list could go on. Everyone who has heard of Mount Holyoke seems to have a different opinion about its students, but most haven’t even spoken to one. Several locals were familiar with these stereotypes, but said they disappeared quickly once they got to know a student personally.
“From an outsider’s perspective, I once saw them (Mount Holyoke students) as privileged, rich and powerful because the school is so prestigious,” said Ryan Moore, a 33-year-old who grew up in South Hadley, graduated from University of Massachusetts, Amherst and now works at the South Hadley Fire Department District 2, almost half of SHFD2’s total call volume comes from the College. As a kid, Moore would walk around Lower and Upper Lake with his parents, sled down Prospect Hill and rock out at Sugar Ray concerts on campus, but he never felt the right age to get to know the Mount Holyoke students.
“For such a small town, it really puts us on the map worldwide. It could be Chicopee or Holyoke, but no, it’s South Hadley,” said Moore, as he clicked to open the map application on his desktop to show the geography of the area. He pointed out his property’s fence-line, which borders the Mount Holyoke Equestrian Center.
Before his job at the South Hadley Fire Station, he had always felt out of place and unwelcome on the campus grounds. Scratching his handlebar mustache, he remarked that this was probably because he’s a male outsider. Because — after all — his life never really intersected with the students’, until he started receiving 100 ambulance calls a year from the College, usually due to burnt popcorn. It took him over three decades of his life to realize that, “really they’re all just students from diverse demographics, races and religions.”
Moore explained that it would be impossible to “pinpoint a type” of Mount Holyoke student, because there isn’t really one. As he said this, he made eye contact with his friend Pat Davis, who entered the station in a navy blue Fire Department District #2 hoodie, with bulky black sunglasses behind his ears.
Pat Davis — who grew up in Western Massachusetts — personally has no problem with the “girls,” but said that “they’re still complete strangers to us (firefighters).” If he were to stereotype them, he admitted they can be “very political.” Davis sees a huge potential in relationships that the College could have with the community and vice versa, which he thinks is currently lacking. If the firefighters were more integrated with the student community, they would want to give fire talks to help the students feel safer for future emergencies.
Although local teenager Kate Garbacik works across the street from the College at WOW Frozen Yogurt in the Village Commons, she hasn’t interacted with Mount Holyoke students more than “weighing their yogurt.” As the machines churned in the quiet and empty store, she confessed that she still has some lingering prejudice in her mind about the students, especially with the “stigma surrounding the LGBTQ community.” There aren’t any statistics about this community on campus, but all sexual orientations are welcomed, with resources available on campus. Students assume the LGBTQ percentage to be about 30 to 50 percent of the student population.
“It’s like you feel they’re all one person, especially since it’s a female college,” she said as she leaned shyly against the yogurt counter and brushed some topping crumbs to the floor.
Garbacik knows that Mount Holyoke students must be smart to get into the College, because “everyone knows it’s hard to get into.” She acknowledged that if she hadn’t met her co-worker Miriam — who attends Mount Holyoke — she wouldn’t have realized that “it’s actually a really diverse group.”
Another local, Kim Wilson — from the neighboring town of Chicopee and works at Wow Frozen Yogurt — describes her relationship with MoHos to be “business only.” She appreciates that “those girls work their butts off to get where they are.” On the other hand, she’s seen evidence of the stereotypes, through the Mount Holyoke students who live in an apartment above her store and act extremely entitled. According to Wilson, she’s seen their personal nanny, countless chauffeured trips to the mall and how they always return with bags and bags of new clothes.
“There are so many walks of life over there, but some can be uppity. They are how they are and you just accept it,” said Wilson.
Another local conception of MoHos associates them with the redhead character from the Scooby Doo television series. Daphne is known as sophisticated, wealthy, vain and money-hungry. The stereotype depicts each of the Five Colleges in the Pioneer Valley as different roles in the show, and the local joke is that Mount Holyoke students are the “Daphne type.”
Stereotypes aside, Mount Holyoke College was founded in 1837, is the oldest historically women’s college in the country and the first of the Seven Sisters. Mount Holyoke’s yearly tuition rests at $59,306, with over 70 percent of students receiving some form of financial aid. The faculty and staff speak more than 50 languages, and a huge priority on campus is inclusivity. Mount Holyoke has provided access to women from all socioeconomic backgrounds and is currently ranked as the 36th best national liberal arts college, according to the U.S. News and World Report.
Although the College is an internationally recognized institution, it often isn’t even recognized by locals. The extent to which most South Hadley residents and those from surrounding towns interact with the College is by slowing down for pedestrians at any of the eight campus crosswalks. Even then, they are most likely peeved that a student forgot to press the button again and crossed without looking. Driving past the school with the windows rolled up doesn’t necessarily lend itself to slashing student stereotypes.
Employees of Dunkin Donuts and General Cleaners 5 minutes from campus didn’t know enough about the College to have a stereotype in mind about its students. Aside from those who walk their dogs around campus, know a student personally, use the gym or library or work at Mount Holyoke or in Village Commons across the street, knowledge of the College is minimal. Reciprocally, the students don’t spend time in the community, unless they work in the community-based learning program, walk around the neighborhoods, work off-campus, know the locals or grew up in the area.
Mount Holyoke College is physically contained in South Hadley, but in many ways, it’s not part of the community. The small town of nearly 18,000 residents relies on student traffic for business, especially in the Village Commons. Joe Golio, owner of the Crazy Moon Fashion Company, says that Mount Holyoke students are the core of his business sales. During the off months, business is very slow for his store and only comes back to life when students return every September.
“All I know is that we (the Village Commons) live for Mount Holyoke,” said Golio. Crazy Moon’s fashion trends and prices are centered around the forwardness of the college and what’s affordable for students. Golio knows better than to submit to stereotypes of MoHos, because “virtually 99.9 percent of our employees have always been Mount Holyoke students.” He knows the girls personally, as they rotate in and out of employment in his store, and sees them as “very bright and passionate about their education.”
Students bring life and money to this charming New England town. But without business exchanges, residents who are employees of local stores and students have no reason to communicate with one another. Residents who have spent time with students reject their lingering stereotypes about MoHos, but the rest will continue their daily routines and probably drive past the College without ever stopping.