In the past few years, youth culture has converged around two opposing stereotypes – the hipster and the bro. Both have been around for quite some time but more recently they’ve become common parlance at the high school and college level. Hipsters and bros define themselves in opposition to each other. I was recently conducting research with a bro at a certain college and I mentioned Wesleyan University. He said, “that’s that place with the skinny jeans” meaning “that’s that place with the hipster guys,” meaning that’s the place he wouldn’t be caught anywhere close to.
Although hipsters and bros are antithetical – The hipsters revel in irony, wear scarves and skinny jeans, and congregate in Brooklyn. The bros detest irony, wear baseball caps, and are geographically attuned to wealthy suburbs – there are essential traits they have in common: both are expressions of affluence and privilege. And, although both are open to individuals of differing skin color, both are essentially White. Less weighty perhaps but certainly crucial in their eyes, both celebrate cheap beer.
The hipster-bro cultural axis leaves all kinds of students out – young people who are neither hipster nor bro. It would be tempting to call these students “nerds” and often the students themselves identity in this way. But the group of neither-of-the-above is broader than self-identified nerds. It includes kids who are not particularly socially outgoing. Those who don’t drink. Good, solid kids who occupy our high schools and colleges. The ones who mainly want to grow up, get on with their lives and don’t feel the attraction of either of these strongly socially defined groups. They find both hipsters and bros intimidating and off-putting.
I attribute the recent success of some hot colleges such as The University of Chicago and Tufts University to the fact that they offer comfortable homes to good solid students who desire to be neither hipster nor bro. These neither-of-the-above students are looking for a home and what schools like U of C and Tufts offer is a fairly down-to-earth, not highly stylish student culture. This is a market niche. It’s not necessarily one that schools would deliberately cultivate. But it is important to remember that the vast majority of young people, especially young people from public schools, more modest economic backgrounds, and non-White families do not have the cultural resources nor desire to be either hipster or bro. The stereotypes leave them out. Luckily there are many fine colleges where they can find a home.