Traditions, social norms and stereotypes are inevitable wherever we go, and when something goes against the grain, it makes people uncomfortable. When someone enters an elevator, it is expected that they face the doors. When an acquaintance asks, “How are you?” the normal response is “Good, thanks. How are you?” When a student has a question in class, they are expected to raise their hand and wait to speak until they have been called on by the teacher.
UVU has its own social norms, influenced by the dominate religion present in Utah Valley. The stereotypical male in Utah Valley is clean-cut and the stereotypical female is conservatively dressed. So what happens when a guy walks across campus with diamond studs in each ear, or when a girl shows up to class with a tattoo of a Chinese symbol on her neck? Many of these “non-traditional” students feel judged because their appearance goes against the norm in Utah Valley.
Jack Waters, a former student, has the Bob Dylan logo tattooed on his right arm. The “all seeing eye” is in the middle, an elaborate crown on top, eyelashes that look like flames on the bottom and the lyrics, “because something is happening here” are written below.
According to Waters, his tattoo has sparked some interesting behavior across campus.
“I feel like an animal in a zoo,” Waters said as he recalled an instance when a student whom he had never met asked to touch his tattoo as if Waters were a goat at a petting zoo.
“In my experience, people [in Utah Valley] assume they can touch tattoos. It’s dehumanizing,” Waters said.
Waters’s long hair, which hangs slightly past his shoulders, and his bushy beard already set him apart from the majority of males at UVU, so his Bob Dylan tattoo only encouraged strange looks from strangers.
Savanna McGuill, another former student, thinks that a lot of people in Utah Vally are not used to seeing tattoos. They are “naive,” she said.
Many students with tattoos on campus say they chose to get their ink in places that could be easily covered if needed.
Rachael Johnson was worried that her friends and family were going to judge and treat her differently if they knew about her tattoo, so she chose to have her daugher’s name tattooed on her shoulder blade rather than the inside of her wrist so she can easily hide it.
There are also controversial opinions among students concerning body piercings.
“I personally don’t have my ears or anything pierced,” said James Talbot, student. “But I don’t really think twice if I see a guy with earrings or a girl with her nose pierced or something. It doesn’t really matter to me.”
On the other end, Tina Burnett has her lip and eyebrow pierced and said that she has gotten many glares and stares from students.
“I think there are plenty of students who judge me because of my piercings,” Burnett said. “It’s because I look different than most girls around here.”
So why do some students care about tattoos and piercings while others don’t?
Waters believes people [in Utah Valley] are “fascinated by rebellion.” But Waters considers tattoos no different than when people paint their nails or bleach their hair.
Since Waters has relocated to Salt Lake City, he has noticed far more tattoos than when he lived in Utah Valley. The people that have tattoos at UVU are easy to point out because there are so few of them, but in Salt Lake City it seems people can’t get “enough tattoos, especially sleeve tattoos.”
As for the reactions, Waters said he is judged far less in Salt Lake City compared to Utah Valley.