Labels are often used negatively, to put people into compartments and blame entire groups for the actions of a few. We recently shared stories where individuals have been labelled for their skin colour and their dress. But can labels ever be used positively?
Labels do inform much of our life at university. You become known as “the engineering dude”, “that medical one”, or, perhaps, “the nerdy chick”. What’s more, we seek labels for ourselves. How many of us have joined a Somali, Islamic, or women’s society at university for example? Off the back of our various interests and identities, we end up labelling each other.
This happens in tutorials too. For instance, in an English literature module on the Renegados, the tutor might turn to a Muslim student to ask for a specific opinion, or in a Sociology module about a South American social issue, a Brazilian participant may be asked to comment.
So what we need to do is ensure we are investigating the way we use labels and the way others use them too! Labels should not be used to box people into a single group or put them into an uncomfortable position. We can choose the extent to which we want to embrace a label and engage with it. Overall, we must celebrate our multiple identities and complexities, and bring those to the table. That, of course, means sometimes we have to stand up and challenge a label.