Despite calls for equality, stereotypes run rampant in Glenbard West

“Glen Ellyn is for the rich kids and Glendale Heights is for the ghetto kids.” – Ridah Shaikh

“People from [Glendale Heights] are ghetto.” – Treeya Desai

“Glen Ellyn is a rich majority white and privileged town. [Glendale Heights] is a worse town that brings in the ‘ghetto’ kids. People have thought I was a pothead because of the way I look and dress.” – Anas Alzamli

“I have heard that Glen Ellyn is very [prejudiced] against [POC] and the people who go to our school have many times been caught using racial slurs but the school does not have any consequences.” – Genesis Diola


These are some of the responses I received when I posed a question on a couple of my social media platforms, including Instagram and Snapchat.

To West students I asked, “What are some stereotypes you have heard or even talked about regarding Glen Ellyn or Glendale Heights?” With a good amount of my followers being West students, especially on Instagram, I received a mere eleven replies. 

In the majority of the answers regarding Glendale Heights, one specific word stood out as most frequent: ghetto.

According to, ghetto means “a section of a city, especially a thickly populated slum area, inhabited predominantly by members of an ethnic or other minority group, often as a result of social or economic restrictions, pressures, or hardships.” A more colloquial meaning of “ghetto” is also available on the site. They provide it as a slang term, meaning “noting something that is considered to be unrefined, low-class, cheap, or inferior,” giving it a disparaging undertone. The word is used with that implication today. Some parts of its formal definition can be combined with its colloquial meaning. This includes “slum,” “pressures,” “hardships,” which all can be associated with the demeaning slang currently used.

Glendale Heights from Google Maps
Glen Ellyn from Google Maps


To determine whether Glendale Heights is “ghetto,” a question can be proposed:

-Does Glendale Heights qualify as a slum with people with financial problems?

In the stereotypes the students presented, the whole of Glendale Heights was considered “ghetto.” Therefore a generalization can be made that all of Glendale Heights is also a slum in accordance with its definition. A slum is “a thickly populated, run-down, squalid part of a city, inhabited by poor people.” However, all the citizens of Glendale Heights do not fall under this definition. From the United States Census Bureau, only 9.4% of their people are living in poverty. Additionally, with all the families in the town, the median household income is $67,763 with a 7.77% growth rate. In other words, most Glendale Heights citizens are prospering. With this in mind, most of their citizens are getting by and not everyone is “poor.” Knowing this, Glendale Heights is not by definition a slum.


Another question can be proposed:

-Does Glendale Heights’ true ethnic identity support the negative definition that is used to describe the town? 

Regarding diversity, 33.7% of the Glendale Heights population is white, while the remaining 66.3% are Black or African American, American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders, Hispanic or Latino, or other races. English is only 47.9% spoken while the remaining percentages make up languages such as Spanish, languages of India, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and multiple others. In wild contrast, Glen Ellyn is 82.2% white and other races are a simple 17%. English is 85.6% spoken, and other mentioned languages are only 14.4%. It is clearly seen that the majority of minorities are indeed in Glendale Heights. 

Foreshadowing a fact about the word “ghetto,” it was used to reference the segregation of one particular race in an area. However, with all the statistics of Glendale Heights shown, it is clear that Glendale Heights has multiple races, not only one. So, “ghetto” cannot be representative of Glendale Heights students’ identities in that sense. Yes, Glendale Heights does have more diversity included in its population, but since it does not qualify as a slum, it should not be embedded in West students’ minds as a ghetto. 


What is economic assistance like in both towns?

Despite Glen Ellyn having a 6.3% poverty percentage, in the village website, there is not one easily accessible page that offers any kind of aid under categories of “Government,” “Resident Services,” “Our Community,” “Doing Business,” or “I’m Looking For…” For Glendale Heights, under the section “Residents,” there is an option called “Hardship Assistance,” accounting for people of all financial states.


What is the historical meaning behind “ghetto”? Why is correct use of the word relevant today?

The word ghetto was once used as a way to refer to large Jewish immigrant neighborhoods in bigger cities. At the same time, some African Americans were using the word to reference their racial segregation. However, with the release of a book called Dark Ghetto by Kenneth Clark in 1965, the word “ghetto” became associated with Black people (negatively) more than it did with the Jewish community. From Time, Clark saw not only connections with skin color but saw the places (ghettos) as “bleak, desperate places, devoid of faith in a better future and awash in self-destructive behavior and social vices.” 

USA Today claims that Black families are one of the groups that are more likely to grow with difficulty. They say, “Black Americans are more than twice as likely as whites or Asian Americans to live in poverty” and they “encounter inequalities in education, discrimination in the workplace, ineffective parenting, high incarceration rates, and more.”

In the “About” section of the Black Lives Matter website, it is stated how the movement started with the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer in 2013. One of their bold statements are “By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives.”

By using the word “ghetto” in current times, with its large amount of history behind it, as a derogatory term does not prioritize “centering Black joy” as the movement describes. The only thing it does is take away someone’s sense of peace by mentally pressuring Glendale Heights residents to feel embarrassed about where they live. Yet, the heavy presence of diversity in Glendale Heights counters that demeaning mindset.

The diversity that exists fosters understanding within the community. It allows one to see beyond what they are comfortable with and what they will most likely face out in reality. AMP Global Youth claims that “When you compare your struggles, priorities, and values, you can really begin to comprehend where an individual is coming from and understand his or her actions and behaviors.” The ethnicity portion of the definition of “ghetto” is a pro.

Many students from Glen Ellyn did express their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Yet, the fact that West students can still present these stereotypes is a contradiction to the actions of Glen Ellyn students as well as Glendale Heights students trying to work for the betterment of society. 


On the other hand, Glen Ellyn families are also affected. 

Glen Ellyn families also have stereotypes made against them. 

One student says, “People from Glendale Heights often dismiss any hardships/real problems people from Glen Ellyn face solely because they live in Glen Ellyn and apparently their lives should be perfect.” They also said, “When Glen Ellyn kids talk about an event that happens only in Glen Ellyn, they are called spoiled and rich.”

Finn Bender, a senior, says, “The idea of a ‘GEM’ is what I heard about the most. And believe it or not, I hear it more from people who live in Glen Ellyn more than anywhere else. Typically, [GEMS] are affluent, stay-at-home, white, and play some sort of sport (tennis, spinning, golf). Mostly this term comes from kids who are mocking their parents.” The term “GEM,” standing for “Glen Ellyn mom,” has a more positive connotation in comparison to what “ghetto” has come to truly mean today.

Problems are universal, and they happen to everyone, so such a bold generalization should not be made against anyone. Students from both towns should be supported. Finn’s statement supports this entirely: “How accurate this stereotype is, I’m not sure. But it’s the one that prevails the most.” Stereotypes, in general, are made without background knowledge or research. 


Glen Ellyn students might be for diversity and wholeheartedly encourage it, but their privilege is made very clear. They don’t have “ghetto” describing their personality or residence hanging above their head. Senior Anas Alzamli says that for sports, “most Glen Ellyn kids have the money to buy trainers and play for good teams” and for academics, they have “the money to buy tutors, and take standardized tests multiple times.”

Anas states that it is “on the school to prioritize all students.” He also believes that it starts with the “teachers seeing these disparities in their own classrooms and not turning a blind eye.” Senior Ridah Shaikh thinks that “West could just try to take more initiative to be more inclusive in general.” Alumna Treeya Desai thinks that “it’s important with clubs to show that there’s diversity at West.” She also adds, “Everyone has their story and struggles… Just know that creating stereotypes and feeding off on them is just giving in to unrealistic standards of society.”