Hipsters are known for abandoning societal norms and scoffing at all things mainstream. However, hipsters have not abandoned the conventional idea of higher education. It is evident that hipsters have in fact made a place for themselves at colleges nationwide, with the Huffington Post even creating a list of the top ten hipster colleges (Unigo). What is it that makes hipsters able to repudiate mainstream but at the same time embrace the college experience? To answer this question I have chosen to investigate the following colleges in New York City: New York University, Pace University, Fordham University, Columbia University, and Manhattan College. * Aside from the fact that I attend Fordham University Rose Hill, I have chosen the remaining colleges based on location and popularity. Through my observations at the stated New York City colleges in conjunction with the 3T’s of economic development (Florida 363), I am able to create a thick description of the ideal hipster college (Geertz 6).
The single most important aspect of hipster culture has to be clothing. Clothing visually separates those who listen to Ke$ha from those who appreciate Mumford & Sons and those who shop at The Gap from those who scavenge through thrift shops. At Manhattan College, one student described the style as “preppy, with pastels and boat shoes… your basic East Coast rich white kid style,” the same of which can be said about Fordham Rose Hill in the Bronx. Fordham Lincoln Center students, on the other hand, have more of an overall alternative look, similar to NYU students. At Fordham Lincoln Center, NYU, and Columbia I observed a noticeable absence of popular mainstream items such as North Face jackets, Ugg boots, and especially sweatpants of any kind. One student at Columbia noted that on campus it is unacceptable to dress in anything that would not be considered business casual, a strategy that has perhaps been set in place by mainstream students (de Certeau 29-30). This is not to say that hipsters refrain from using tactics to add their own flair to the business casual look, like one student in particular who was giving a tour wearing a trench coat and stilettos, along with a pink, white, and blue Mohawk type hairdo.
In order to uphold the hipster image, financial stability is a must. Hipsters aim to achieve a look of effortlessness which involves the art of mixing thrift shop steals with pricey designer “vintage” wear, which can retail for well over hundreds of dollars per piece. In my study I found that New York City colleges with price tags of over sixty thousand dollars and minimal financial aid packages had the strongest hipster presence on campus. In order of hipster presence, these colleges were New York University with tuition of $60,407, Columbia University costing $64,144, and Fordham University priced at a steep $64,562. Pace University and Manhattan College, colleges with tuitions around fifty five thousands and a more generous financial aid office, did not have as strong as a hipster culture.
In addition to sharing some of the most expensive tuition rates in the nation, Fordham University, New York University, and Columbia University also share a competitive admissions process. While Columbia’s admission rate is incredibly more selective than NYU and Fordham at a mere seven percent, all three schools received an admissions rating higher than ninety six on a scale from sixty to ninety nine (Franek 183-399). While hipsters may be perceived as nothing more than people who drink coffee, read poetry, and do not wash their hair, the teenage hipster had to have worked incredibly hard to be admitted into these universities. While this may be surprising, it does in fact coincide with the idea that hipsters thrive on irony. Hipsters may not necessarily care for mainstream education, yet hipsters are studying at the most exclusive colleges in the nation.
It would appear that the hipster culture is not geared for a specific race or ethnicity. In fact, my findings may actually prove the opposite true. The NYC colleges all had a percentage of minorities to be under, or right around fifty percent, save one. With thirty eight percent of students identifying as Caucasian, New York University proved to not have a racial or ethnic minority among the student population. Yet, the amount of hipsters at the NYU campus exceeded the population of hipsters at other NYC colleges by a magnitude. The combination of eighty seven countries and all fifty states allows for a unique mix of alternative thinkers that cannot be replicated at nearly any university worldwide. This unique mix has created an imagined community of racially diverse hipsters that share similar mindsets and attract those who think similarly (Anderson).
An interesting aspect of the NYC colleges with a noticeable population of hipsters was the presence of art throughout campus. Fordham University has a small gallery in the lobby of the Lincoln Center Campus, which had a display of about a dozen of the same type of shovel, which I suppose is something that mainstream college students would not understand. There are also religious and nonreligious statues throughout the Manhattan and Bronx campuses. Columbia University, like New York University, also had paintings, sculptures, and statues scattered throughout campus, as well as having architecturally admirable buildings. From what I observed, Manhattan College had one sole statue that stood three feet tall and may have had religious significance. Pace University had an art room, but did not display art elsewhere. The presence of art on campus, as opposed to a basketball team that consecutively wins the NCAA tournament, proves to attract more creative students and allows hipsters to prosper.
Along with clothing style, the right food preferences are essential to achieving the ultimate hipster identity. Many hipsters tend to be either vegetarian or vegan, or possess certain dietary beliefs. NYU and Columbia, whom both have significant hipster populations cater specifically to vegan and vegetarian students. While other New York City colleges and other colleges nationwide are sure to provide food for students with dietary restrictions, students at both NYU and Columbia noted that the presence of vegan and vegetarian food is definitely acknowledged and publicized more than it would be on other campuses. Although Fordham University has a significant amount of hipsters, the overall taste and quality of food landed on the top ten list of worst food in the country, so there is no surprise that vegan and vegetarian options are not a main concern (Franek). Because of its prime location in Manhattan, Pace University is surrounded by restaurants with vegetarian and vegan options, yet the school itself does not stress these diets. Manhattan College has limited options for alternative eaters, yet unlike Pace is not located in Manhattan and therefore does not have many options within walking distance.
Rules and Regulations
Because hipsters tend to thrive on their independence, it is ironic that NYU, Fordham, Pace and Columbia have extremely strict campus policies. While it is clear that these schools are located in the city and need maximum security to ensure the safety of students, these schools are a bit excessive in their regulations, especially regarding guests. Columbia University requires students to remain with their guests at all times, no exceptions. Fordham University requires students to obtain guests passes twenty four hours in advance and, due to religious beliefs, does not permit overnight guest of the opposite gender. NYU and Pace also have extremely strict guest policies and require all guests to have photo identification when entering the dorm buildings. The students I spoke to at Manhattan College all claimed that the campus security was concerned about safety but was not any stricter than need be. Hipsters pride themselves on being independent and rejecting the beliefs of not only mainstream society, but of their parents as well. However, the colleges where they have chosen to attend uphold strict policies, which take away the opportunity for complete independence and freedom, another ironic aspect of hipster college attendance.
For the purpose of this study I have thought of college campuses in the way that author Richard Florida thought of major cities. Florida believes that the 3T’s of economic development: tolerance, talent, and technology, are vital “to attract creative people” (Florida 363). On college campuses, the creative people that Richard Florida refers to in his piece would be hipsters. The tolerance, the “openness, inclusiveness, and diversity to all ethnicities, races, and walks of life,” can be seen in the diversity at New York University, the breeding ground for hipsters. At NYU there is no minority or majority race, but there was the strongest presence of hipsters compared to the colleges in my study. The talent that Florida describes is shown in the extremely low acceptance rates at Columbia, Fordham, and NYU. However, talent can also be shown in the steep tuitions at these three colleges. Because of the cost of these colleges it is clear that the parents of the students must be earning a salary that allows them to spare a quarter of a million dollars in four years, something that only middle to upper class people with high paying jobs can achieve. Technology is present in all colleges, however those with steep tuitions and difficult admission rates have more money to spend on technological advancements. Technology is also shown in the innovative art pieces throughout campuses like Fordham, Columbia, and NYU. Florida claims that the 3T’s are vital to attracting the creative class and based on the presence of tolerance, talent, and technology and the significant amount of hipsters at New York University, Columbia University, and Fordham University this holds true on college campuses as well.
The 3T’s of economic development is a formula that explains what exactly entices creative people to large cities. Through my findings I am able to create a similar formula that explains what attracts hipsters to college campuses. I have found that aside from students who embody the hipster aesthetic through clothing and food, a college needs a diverse student body, an authority to challenge, a minimal acceptance rate, a maximal tuition, and an appreciation for art to attract hipsters. If a college possesses these attributes, it is highly likely that there are hipsters roaming its campus donned in skinny jeans and flannels, laughing at those who are not.
Anderson, Benedict R. O’G. Imagined Communities [Electronic Resource] : Reflections On The Origin And Spread Of Nationalism / Benedict Anderson. n.p.: London ; New York : Verso, c2006., 2006. Fordham Libraries Catalog. Web. 30 March. 2014.
Certeau, Michel De. “Chapter III “Making Do”: Uses and Tactics.” The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California, 1984. N. pag. Print.
Columbia University. “Columbia University in the City of New York.” Columbia University. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.
Fordham University. “About Fordham University.” FORDHAM.EDU. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2014.
Florida, Richard L. Cities and the Creative Class. New York: Routledge, 2005. 358-69. Print.
Franek, Robert. The Best 376 Colleges. New York: Random House, 2011. 183+. Print.
Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic, 1973. Print.
Lanham, Robert, Bret Nicely, and Jeff Bechtel. The Hipster Handbook. New York: Anchor, 2003. Print.
Manhattan College. “About.” Manhattan College. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2014
New York University. “About NYU.” New York University. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2014.
Pace University. “Pace University Home.” PACE UNIVERSITY. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2014.
Unigo. “Top 10 Hipster Colleges.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 07 Sept. 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.
* Pace University and Fordham University both have multiple campuses, for the purpose of this study I will be referring to the campuses located in Manhattan. Also note that Manhattan College is located in the Bronx, but was included for the purpose of contrasting the presence of hipsters on different campuses.
Non-hipsters at Manhattan College