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J. Crew U

Ditch it or deal with it?

By Alyssa Kozlow, Whitney McConney, Bridget McKenna, Lissa Renner and Hannah Rust
On April 29, 2010

  • The face of Insomnia Cookies occupies what was once the Pita Pit uptown. The bakery opened Wednesday. Jalen Walker | The Miami Student

A pair of crisply pressed jeans, a pink Oxford shirt and a pair of tan Sperry Top-Siders.

Nike workout shorts, a half-zip monogrammed with Greek letters and a pair of blue Sperry Top-Siders.
Khaki slacks, a white polo shirt, a pair of tan Sperry Top-Siders.

Sit anywhere on campus and observe a rainbow of Sperry Top-Siders, Polo's, button up shirts and Greek letters. In the wintertime, one can't walk five feet without spotting a pair of UGG boots or a North Face jacket.

These Miami staples are part of the reason our school has earned the nickname "J. Crew U."

College Prowler, an online college review site, says the J. Crew U nickname "aptly describes the unofficial dress code of the school. Even when girls go to class in T-shirts and sweatpants, they somehow pull it off with style. Miami students take their wardrobe very seriously."

In a student-conducted survey, 85 percent of Miami students admitted getting e-mails from J. Crew.

First-year Grace Herbert said she was frustrated with the J. Crew U stereotype.

"It's not fair that we are all labeled as stuck-up rich white kids because in reality, not all of us are," Herbert said.

Students are used to battling this image on a day-to-day basis.

"As you spend more time as a student at Miami, J. Crew U is just something that you deal with," first-year Jenny Besman said.

"Miami University is highly recognized for its preppy nature and overall ‘attractive' student body … Some people say the guys and girls at Miami can have a snobby streak brought on by their good looks, nice clothes and high family incomes," College Prowler said.

First-year Julia Marvel, a Boston native, said the J. Crew U stereotype was not something she was familiar with before arriving on campus.

"I could see that the school was really preppy," Marvel said. "The majority of the students were dressed up, whether they were going to class or just hanging out."

Students agreed that while some obviously fit the seeming stereotype, there are plenty of students who do not.

"There are a lot of students who fit the ‘mold' and there are a lot that don't," senior Matt Hoffman said.

Alumni said the stereotype existed, but not all Miami students applied.

"There was always the stereotype of Miami students being preppy while I was there," said Sumita Lindsey, a 1978 graduate.

Dennis Matejka, a 1980 graduate, disagreed. Matejka said he thought it was unfair to place that stereotype on a student body that had nothing to do with the stereotype's birth.

"There was some of every type of person," Matejka said. "You know, there were hippie types and preppy types and the jocks, the athletes…so there was a good mix."

Another part of Miami culture often associated with this lingering stereotype is Greek life.

"When they ask about Greek community, I say, ‘Yeah, a third of our campus is Greek but I'm not Greek and I have friends and I have a lot of fun here,'" Hoffman said. "I try to qualify a lot of what I have to say with my own stories."

Oxford's Greek community gift shop, Alpha House, is home to many employees affiliated with the Greek community.

Junior Selena DeGirolamo, Alpha House employee and member of Delta Zeta sorority, said the Greek community is home to a powerful microcosm of the stereotypical image.

"There's always the typical sorority girl," DeGirolamo said. "Miami does have that reputation, but I feel like it's played up way more than what it really is. People are a lot more diverse than what Miami gets credit for I think."

Miami has recently hired a re-branding crew to fix Miami's misunderstood image.

Target X is a college recruitment company that works with universities to target the next generation: incoming freshman, according to the website. Target X has attempted to begin the Miami stereotype facelift by changing tour guide protocol.

Hoffman said the company hopes to stop the stereotype in its tracks by advising tour guides to tell their own stories as opposed to rattling off facts and statistics.

Before Target X, tour guides were given some "off-limits" topics like preppy fashion, drinking and snobby attitudes associated with Miami.

"We didn't have to lie, but we used to have to skirt around certain topics," Hoffman said.

Hoffman has worked as a Miami tour guide for three years.

Tour guides are encouraged to be very honest, making the campus as real to the prospective students as possible. Hoffman said relaying his own experiences while highlighting the positive beauty of Miami is the way to go.

Miami carries another detrimental stereotype; middle to upper class and mostly white population. Miami's admissions website said 91.2 percent of 2009-2010 students classify themselves as Caucasian.

In 2008, The Princeton Review ranked Miami as the fourth most homogeneous university.

First-year John Malloy didn't categorize diversity as purely racial, though.

"Although Miami may not be as racially diverse as one would hope, I do still believe Miami is diverse, just in other ways," Malloy said.

In another student survey, the majority of students agreed Miami University is more diverse than their respective high schools.

"No matter where you went to high school, this university is more diverse than that in different ways" said first-year Michael Cole.

Students acknowledge there is a stereotype, but argue Miami students are diverse and separate from the J. Crew mindset. Miami's effort in creating an image that expunges the name of J. Crew U is currently in progress.

According to Unigo, another college review website, "Miami is reaching out to different socioeconomic and geographic groups to bring some different faces to Miami."

Meredith Smith, counselor and assistant director of tour guides, knows the challenges as well as the limitations caused by this lingering stereotype.

Smith attended Miami for her four undergraduate years. She was a tour guide during her time in Oxford, but didn't want to stop there. Following graduation, Smith returned to Miami to work with the admissions department. Smith said students shouldn't judge a book by its cover.

"If you look around, you're going to find people that fit that stereotype, but that may only be for that one day," Smith said. "I really encourage people to get to know others below the surface and ask really intentional questions about their experiences they have had in life. I'm a firm believer that everyone has a story. Everyone has experiences that has shaped who they are."

Dionn Tron, associate vice president for university communications, holds the ideal that Miami students are defined not only by how they dress or how they're perceived, but also by the relationships they have with each other.

"There are many things that are important," Tron said. "The close relationship our students have with their professors, the high academic standards, the different way that students learn and the total experience we give students. It's a very immersive environment and very engaged, students control their own experience."

University communications and public relations efforts aim to overcome the negative picture painted by the J. Crew U mantra.

"It's an image we've had for a while, probably because of the demographics of our students, but we're working hard to change that as we diversify our student body in all regards," Tron said.

The percentage of multicultural students and students with different socioeconomic backgrounds have grown astronomically, according to Tron. She said Miami hopes to see these numbers increase in the next few years.

While the university strives for diversity, Smith said it would be good to see a change in the J. Crew U stamp.

"There does need to be a change of mindset," Smith said.

Students change through their years at Miami, but not just through their taste in clothing.

"When you come in your freshman year and leave your senior year, there are four years of incredible growth, and I think that finding your fit is the most important part," Smith said.

Sophomore Jordan Winterman said he changed since his arrival at Miami two years ago.

"I've become more independent and responsible," Winterman said. "I've taken a more proactive approach to my job and in my fraternity. I've had that ‘style' my whole life. I like to look fashionable. I mean, come on. How else am I going to get girls to talk to me?"

For Winterman, humor is the key to overcoming an overbearing nuisance of a stereotype.

For other students, like sophomore Molly Sackett, working toward individuality is the way to overcome the shadow of J.Crew U.

"I've learned to be an independent thinker despite the way some students may conform," Sackett said. "I find that I can still look nice, have my own style and make my own decisions."

Smith said while there is a prevalent stereotype around Miami's campus, what's more important and what resonates more is everything else students have to offer.

"We're not just a bunch of preppy kids, we're so much more," Smith said.

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