Players of Northwestern's Women's Varsity Soccer team rejoice during a game on Oct. 11, 2019. Photo by Maren Kranking / North by Northwestern

I stumbled into my multimedia journalism class just on time. I rushed from my 6 a.m. soccer practice, so I was sweaty, out of breath and exhausted. For my fellow classmates, the day had just began. I’d been up for four hours.

For the first time in two years, I hadn’t changed out of my team-issued clothes (Under Armour shorts, shoes and a “Northwestern Women’s Soccer” T-shirt). Practice ran late, so I was too pressed for time.

Today's discussion topic: Should college student athletes get paid?

One student said, “I think athletes deserve to have compensation for their image being used because the school is making money off of them.”

Not two seconds later another classmate chimed in, rather aggressively, and said, “They don’t even deserve to be here in the first place. They wouldn’t be able to get in without sports anyway.”

The bright purple phrase, “Northwestern Women’s Soccer” on my T-shirt now felt like a statement I had no intention of making. My face became hot, and the eyes that looked my way were unavoidable.

That was the first and last day I went to class wearing any athletic gear. Now, I always change into street clothes such as jeans, sweaters and boots before class – even if it makes me late.

Stereotypes aren’t uncommon. They range from predetermining that all athletes have lower intelligence to a preconceived idea that the athletes on campus are admitted solely because of their sport. Regardless of what the stereotype is, they all work to foster judgments before athletes and students have even interacted.

In reality, according to a Gallup study, athletes actually fared better than non-athletes in multiple aspects of life, such as social, communal and physical well-being and academics. Unfortunately, this information is not well-known and, therefore, stereotypes are what come to mind.

Some Northwestern student athletes were curious about the divide between athletes and students.

“I think that athletes and non-athletes make the problem worse by adhering to the stereotypes,” said Rowan Lapi, a Northwestern sophomore who plays for the Varsity Women’s Soccer team.

“There is the stereotype that many athletes view non-athletes as try-hards … and are only into school," Lapi said. "Then the non-athletes view athletes as just being athletic and not the smartest, and [they] only take easy classes.”

As a result, senior teammates often tell freshmen that if they reveal they are athletes, students will be less likely to work with them on projects and group assignments.

With this advice in the back of my mind, I learned about our final project – a short presentation – shortly after I was outed as an athlete in my journalism class. The worst part … we had to form groups.

People paired off around me before I could even plead my case. I wound up having to be assigned to a group by my professor.

Even in street clothes, other athletes and I often feel judged before walking through the door of a classroom. So when I joined my group at the back of the classroom that day, my group members had already divided up the work, making sure to give me the least amount possible – my jeans and sweater doing nothing to rectify the stereotypes that filled their minds.

Hallie Pearson, a transfer from the University of Arizona who plays for the Northwestern Varsity Women’s Soccer team, never felt self-conscious about wearing her athletic gear at her old school.

“I wasn't afraid for people to know, but more so felt like I was doing something that not many people get to do, and no one thinks I am any less of a student because I am an athlete,” Pearson said.

But at Northwestern, she said she felt stigmatized for being a student athlete.

Still, not all students adhere to the judgmental stereotype.

Through a slip of the tongue, my Asian American history classmates found out I was an athlete. However, even after discovering my identity, they were more than happy to be in my project group when our final assignment rolled around.

In fact, everyone in my project group showed up to the final soccer game I had that season. I can still remember their cheers from the sidelines.    

Like student athletes who hope to be seen as more than their sport, students wish to be praised for their out-of-the-classroom activities. However, unlike athletes, sometimes their outside activities don’t have clothes that indicate their participation.  

“The non student-athletes don’t know what it’s like to walk into a classroom and instantly be judged because of a few words on a shirt or sweatshirt,” said Anthony Gaines, a guard for the Northwestern Varsity Men’s Basketball team. “If they knew, I bet they wouldn’t act the way they do.”

In the end, most athletes just want to be seen as students too. We want to be seen as more than just our sport.

“I wish non-athletes knew soccer was not my only priority and focus in life,” said Reilly Riggs, a center-back for the Northwestern Varsity Women’s Soccer team. “I am very driven academically and have future goals that are not just soccer-related. After my time here at Northwestern I hope to go to medical school and become a doctor. There is a reason I chose to attend Northwestern.”

Regardless of this adversity, I just want to be accepted as a part of the Northwestern University community as a whole – not just its athletics. And like other students, this school has given me the chance to achieve my dreams and chase new ones I never knew existed. So why should being an athlete change anything?

In the words of Riggs, “At the end of the day, we’re all Wildcats.”

Editor's Note: The views presented in this story belong to the writer and are not necessarily reflective of North by Northwestern as a whole.