Student stands by freedom of expression

Written by Muleskinner Staff

John Meierhoter (right) praises his friend, Elyn Hirni, for her care-free, go-with-the-flow attitude. (Photo by KRISTIN GALLAGHER, Business Manager)
John Meierhoter (right) praises his friend, Elyn Hirni, for her care-free, go-with-the-flow attitude. (Photo by KRISTIN GALLAGHER, Business Manager)

Story by KRISTIN GALLAGHER, Business Manager—
Small pieces of blue hair fall into her face.
Her oversized, black cotton jacket slumps off one shoulder, exposing her basic purple V-neck. The frill on the bottom of her black skirt falls just above her knees.
The hole in the left leg of her fishnet stockings does not seem to bother her as she curls up her bare feet on the Union couch and lets the long purple braids extending from her blue Mohawk fall over one shoulder.
“I like looking at myself and seeing something I don’t get to see in other people,” she said about her distinct appearance.
For 19-year-old Elyn Hirni, her appearance is an outlet to express her personality.
“I think about who I want to be that day,” she said about getting dressed in the mornings. “Sometimes it’s the closest thing to my bed… Sometimes I think about how I felt the day before. Like, if I just had a bad night, I’m gonna look hot!”
Along with standout clothes and multicolored hair, Elyn sports 13 piercings on her body, two of which are positioned next to each of her dark brown eyes.
“I try to get exotic ones ‘cause they make me feel interesting,” she said.
Perhaps the most defining feature of Elyn is the one thing she lacks – shoes. Wherever she goes, Elyn sports the barefoot look. From campus, to grocery stores, even to restaurants if they will allow it, Elyn prefers the feel of earth beneath her feet to a rubber sole.
“They make my feet stink,” she said about shoes. “And they feel bad. Everyone expects me to be making some big statement by not wearing shoes, but I’m not. I just don’t like them.”
But it is not just her appearance that sets Elyn apart from other people. In fact, it is her entire demeanor that sets her apart.
Elyn has what she describes as an overbearing personality.
She is very joyous and giddy during conversation, independent but loving to all people, and brash but accepting in her judgment of the world around her. And she credits most of this to how she was raised.
“My parents definitely influenced the person I am,” she said. “My mom only had the three D’s that she would punish us for – disobedience, disrespect and the other I don’t really remember, but I did not do any of them again after one time. Otherwise, she let us do or say whatever we wanted really. And my dad, he challenged me a lot more in how I wanted to express myself. But it taught me I had to be brave.”
Elyn grew up outside the city limits of Leeton, Mo. With one school, one gas station and a population of 576, Leeton is a town where everybody knows everybody. Still, Elyn struggled to make friends.
“I didn’t have many friends, but I could entertain myself like a boss,” she said.  “This strengthened my sense of independence, optimism and creativity. So by the time I got to high school, I was awesome. No one had to notice, but I didn’t mind it if anyone did.”
Graduating high school was a stepping-stone in Elyn’s journey to discovery as she met new people and made new impressions.
“I was glad to be out of the high school where I wouldn’t risk being myself or having a voice,” she said.
Since starting college, Elyn has changed her major several times, but has settled on business management for the moment, even though it seems contradictory to her liberal demeanor.
“My dream job is a traveling hippie/hobo/rock star/guru,” she said. “But my parents bribed me with the promise to help me pay for a piece of paper that would make everyone around me much more comfortable. So, I went for it. Besides, I’m a math genius. It can’t be that hard, right?”
It was actually that carefree, go-with-the-flow attitude Elyn exudes that attracted her best friend, John Meierhoter, 21, to her.
“Elyn doesn’t see or look at things like 90 percent of the people I have met,” he said. “She doesn’t follow a lot of the standards that we are taught. Like shoes. Most people tell her to put shoes on. But she doesn’t care. She doesn’t want them.”
Elyn is grouped into what societal norms would define as a diverse crowd.
“I think it is common for people to look to find differences because it is easiest,” said Eugene Stillman, campus advocate for students.
Stillman works in the Union as a primary source of contact for students who are seeking answers or resolutions for personal or academic obstacles they are experiencing.
Stillman said the most common reaction to diversity that he observes from college students is a change in demeanor.
“The way people talk to you [when you’re different], treat you and look at you is different,” he said. “That is probably the biggest. People look at you funny.”
But Elyn said she doesn’t have many problems with other students on campus.
“I haven’t been bullied since high school,” she said. “I like superficial relationships anyway. I don’t like to hang out with people I have already met before, because if we had a good vibe, I don’t want to ruin that… I think I am intense, and sometimes that is just too much for people and ends up pushing them away.”
Still, while Elyn doesn’t have many problems with students on campus, she said she works harder to impress her professors.
“I get underestimated a lot as a non-conformist,” she said. “My teachers have a hard time taking me seriously.”
Elyn represents just a small part of the diversity on the UCM campus.
While some people think of diversity in terms of religion, race or nationality, the term actually relates to a wider range of differences.
“There are all kinds of diversity on this campus,” Stillman said. “Different religions, people who come from different socioeconomic areas, people from the city and from rural areas, people from the U.S. and from other countries, people of all shapes and sizes. There are multitudes of diversity on this campus.”
The 2012 UCM Fact Book, released by institutional research, helps paint the picture of such diversity.
Of the 11,878 students that enrolled in 2012, 30 percent were of a different ethnicity than white, 12 percent of them were from out of state and 2 percent were from out of country.
Of those enrolled from Missouri, only 11 percent of them are from the Johnson County area.
With differences in ethnicity and geographical location comes differences in views, morals and values which is essentially what defines diversity.
As for Elyn, she’s comfortable with the title “different.”
“I think everyone is different,” she said. “I don’t think I’m differently different. I am crazy, smart, not really funny but funny to me. I am talented, but not as talented as I want to be, and I am super passionate.”
Stillman said even though not everyone will accept diversity openly, it should not discourage people from being themselves.
“It’s scary to go out and express yourself,” he said. “You don’t know what the reaction will be. But you have to put yourself out there. Start small and don’t quit trying just because you get a negative reaction. More positive will come out of it than negative.”
And although some people may look at her funny or question her practices, Elyn said that’s all just part of the process to better understanding herself.
“In order to grow, you need others to test your limits, to try your morals and your values – to push you to be the person you only ever thought you could be,” she said.