Can Fairies: Inequality Made Magical and Invisible

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

For my STEP project I researched the people that collect cans that have been left on off-campus yards by OSU students and evaluate how students use the languages and euphemisms to strengthen class differences between them and the so-called, “Can Fairies.” To do this, I conducted interviews with OSU students, observed students’ and collectors’ weekend activities, and searched the internet for previous references to this phenomenon.

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

Through my STEP signature project I was exposed to a world of knowledge that a Pharmaceutical Sciences major like myself had never even heard of. Folklore, as a field of study, approaches the world and the people that inhabit it in a way that I find fascinating, unique, and important. By enrolling in Folklore-focused courses, working with Folklorists, and researching the Can Fairies, I have acquired the skill set necessary to approach the world through a new lens. Furthermore, my observations, conversations, and research allowed me to gain a different perspective in regard to a phenomenon that had become a normal part of my college experience – referencing and leaving cans for the Can Fairies. I have a newfound awareness of the words I use and how they may seem divisive or condescending. I am also aware now, more than ever before, the importance of acknowledging one’s own privilege and dismissing prejudice in order to work towards equality between socioeconomic classes.

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

My STEP signature project was made meaningful for many reasons, but the main reason I gained benefit from this project was my Folklore advisor – Dr. Dorothy Noyes. As I met with her individually, participated as a student in her class, and applied her notes, I grew as a writer, a student, and a person. She provided me with the opportunity to see the world differently and apply my newfound knowledge of Folklore to my career interests. She showed me, with ease, how the euphemisms I am examining as they apply to the Can Fairies, as well as the socioeconomic disparities I was observing, will follow me through my life as a physician and as a women’s health advocate. Understanding how people use euphemisms to ignore the lived experiences of women and those less fortunate than themselves is imperative to breaking down barriers between groups of individuals and allowing everyone to be heard.

In addition to my experience with Dr. Noyes, my STEP project was made meaningful through the formation and strengthening of other friendships as well. For example, this project gave me an excuse to interview fellow classmates and learn about their experiences outside of the classroom while also forcing myself to learn to be more outgoing and bold in order to begin these informative conversations. By making connections with my classmates, I was able to obtain the contact information for the Sustainability Director here at OSU and have a conversation with him that was especially thought provoking, fascinating, and eye-opening. From that phone call I learned so much about OSU and how our University handles waste and recyclables.

The most challenging aspect of my project (and possibly the most transformative) was actually writing my paper and discussing my findings. As a Pharmaceutical Sciences major and a person who – oddly enough – enjoys taking exams, I find writing extensive papers incredibly difficult. I feel myself repeating myself or at a loss for words through the entire process. But, with the help of Dr. Noyes and a bit of determination, I was able to overcome my distaste for writing in order to share my observations and reflect on their larger context. I am thankful for this opportunity and its impact on my progression as a student.

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

My newfound understanding of socioeconomic disparities and the euphemisms people use to ignore these disparities will stay with me as I work as a women’s health physician in the future. Women’s health, while different from the world of can collectors and undergraduate students, is field that is littered with euphemisms intended to make the bodily processes and lived experiences of women easier for people to handle or to simply ignore. Unpacking such euphemisms as well as understanding the importance of listening to, rather than pitying, those that have long been silenced due to economic, social, or racial differences will allow me to be a better person, friend, and physician.

A truck entirely filled with aluminum cans collected by a “Can Fairy”

A “Can Fairy” collecting aluminum cans left on the ground by OSU undergraduate students the night before. Picture taken by student from inside their home.