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Where are all the goth girls?: What it’s like being alt at ASU

Alternative students reflect on how their unique styles have shaped their college experiences

goth girls.jpg

Where are all the goth girls?: What it’s like being alt at ASU

Alternative students reflect on how their unique styles have shaped their college experiences


The sound sliced through the dead of night as Erin Taylor stumbled out of a party.

But it wasn't a stray cat — it was a pack of men. Perched atop a balcony, they hurled catcalls down at her.

Even though the sophomore studying business was caught off guard, it was hardly the first time she had experienced harassment or strange behavior from others, much of which she attributes to her unique sense of fashion.

Taylor classifies herself as "alternative," an umbrella term referring to styles that rebel against the mainstream. The roots of alternative fashion were inspired by the musical movements and other subcultures that swept through the 1950s and 1960s, like the hippie counterculture and rockabilly genre. Its decades long lineage encompasses everything from the stud-encrusted punks of the 1970s to the futuristic cyberpunk subculture of the 2000s.

After leaving the freewheeling San Francisco Bay Area to attend ASU, Taylor quickly realized that not everyone in Arizona was as welcoming of the unique way she expresses herself, which seems to be experimental and ever changing.

Currently, she's rocking jet-black, shoulder-length curls, but just a few months ago, her hair used to trail down to her stomach in a tie-dye sweep of fluorescent green, neon pink and ocean blue. Two snake bite piercings jut out from beneath her lips, and when she smiles, her pair of dimple piercings are on full display. To top it all off, Taylor often draws on pencil-thin eyebrows.

"I think that people see things that are different and feel scared," she said.

From strangers snapping pictures of her as she walks around campus to instances of more open harassment, Taylor has experienced many moments that made her realize not everyone at ASU would embrace her personal style. The worst incident occurred at a fraternity party when an unknown man suddenly approached her.

"I had made eye contact with that guy, and that, I guess, gave him an invitation to harass me," she said.

The man aggressively screamed in her face as Taylor's mind swirled with fear for her physical safety.

"Every time I left in the crowd, he would literally try (to) come find me, and it was just weird and, like, stalkery and creepy," Taylor said.

She turned to TikTok to recount the stressful experience, and the video went viral, amassing over 120,000 views. The comment section soon filled with stories from students who had also experienced uncomfortable treatment because their more unique styles diverge from ASU's beauty norms.

"It's honestly an az wide issue i feel like, I'm not even that alternative and i be getting looks," one commenter wrote.

"No f(or) r(eal) Im not even that 'emo' anymore and I still get hate for it like bruh I just wear eyeliner and have bangs..." another commented.

ASU reported that nearly 80,000 students attended the University in person last semester, with almost 60,000 of them on Taylor's primary campus: the school's Tempe outpost.

With such a wide range of students on campus, Taylor learned from experience that some people have never seen someone dressed like her before. Not only have some students hurled "nasty" insults about her appearance, but she also said she thinks others, especially men, treat the way she looks as an excuse to verbally harass or objectify her.

Even though alternative fashion has become more popular, especially among young adults, with the rise of style influencers and social media, harassment against those who dress differently than the mainstream still endures. In fact, attacks against people for the way they dress, such as those who belong to alternative subcultures, have even been criminalized in some parts of the world.

Last November, a post written from the perspective of a male freshman was uploaded to the ASU subreddit that satirically bemoaned the "lack of goth girls" on campus.

"I know that my fellow ASU male brethren are also disappointed at the lack of goth mommies here," the post stated. "Every single day I wake up and do my morning prayer hoping to spot an emo goth girl somewhere around campus, but alas, to no avail."

"ASU is not a goth-centric school," one commenter replied. "We like our hotties in short shorts with toned ass cheeks hanging out—only fans ready." 

byu/Unable_Occasion_2137 from discussion

Cramping the style

Berenice Calixto Castillo was lounging in her dorm room when she heard the toilet flush. But her roommate wasn't using the bathroom. Instead, Castillo's roommate had just received a call that the police knew she had drugs in her possession and were en route to their dorm. So she frantically tried to flush the evidence away.

Her roommate's panic was contagious — Castillo began to freak out too. Even though she didn't have any drugs herself, she was concerned that stereotypes about people of color who dress alternatively, like herself, could put her at risk.

"The severity of weed on a brown person is so bad," Castillo said. "I was like, 'There is no way this is happening to me right now.'"

Ultimately, the call turned out to be a prank, but the scare didn't stop her roommate from smoking in their room — despite their community assistant's warnings to stop and Castillo's constant anxiety that her roommate would be caught.

Most of all, the situation made Castillo sometimes wish she "looked normal."

"If they find drugs in here, they're gonna look at the person who looks the most different," she said. "But at the end of the day, they can just do a drug test and see that I'm sober, so there's no point in me changing."

Castillo has always been drawn to alternative fashion, but she went "full-on emo" in the eighth grade, when she donned dark skinny jeans, ink-black Converse shoes and a backpack decorated with pins.

But her new look caught her parents' concern, as she also said she had depression at the time. But once Castillo found a lasting friend group, her mom became more accepting of her personal style.

"(The friend group) is a bunch of normal Mexican kids accepting this weird emo into their friend group," Castillo said. "I think, like, my mom realized, 'Oh, it's not that bad. The world won’t ever punish her for being different.'"

After that, Castillo's mom loosened her grip on her child's expression — Castillo was allowed to cut her hair even shorter, something she knows other children's parents would've forbidden.

Mike Syfritt, known to his friends as "Cyberpunk Mike," was decked out in his full "death rock" outfit — head-to-toe in black, with dark pants, a patch-covered denim jacket and gauges that jutted out from each ear like horns — while he waited to filter onto the ASU shuttle from the Polytechnic campus to Tempe. Even though he had ridden the bus numerous times without a hitch, he was suddenly asked to present his ASU ID to board the shuttle, which he attributed to his eye-catching appearance.

Syfritt, who is a returning student studying media arts and sciences, has long been a veteran of the alternative scene. Since being introduced to alternative culture as a teen in the '80s, Syfritt's lived through decades of different styles and subcultures. While he's learned that people nowadays seem to be more accepting of alternative styles, his experience on the shuttle made him reconsider.

Syfritt doesn't always dress to stand out — at networking events, he tries to fit in even though his many tattoos and piercings still distinguish him from the crowd.

"I almost have to put on a costume no matter where I go," Syfritt said. "If I'm going into the goth scene, I'm going to dress like a goth. If I'm going into the corporate scene, I've got to put on a button-down shirt and jeans."

When he has gone out dressed head to toe in his alternative style, his polarizing fashion garners one of two reactions from passersby: extreme intrigue or extreme repulsion. 

Dressing up and standing up

Alternative styles have a long history with various underground subcultures. While these subcultures all diverged from the mainstream, many did so out of necessity. Many marginalized groups, like LGBTQ+ people, have long had a tie to alternative culture.

"I feel like in today's society, like, they're almost like the epitome of our culture," Syfritt said. "That whole community is just accepting of everybody for whatever they are, whoever they are."

In many ways, it's not surprising that alternative fashion has become a sanctuary for LGBTQ+ people, who were long pushed underground and shut out from mainstream society. Rebellion against the status quo and political discontent have been hallmarks of alternative culture for decades.

Being political is the "precedence behind being alternative," Syfritt said. 

Because of the close tie between the two groups, recent political backlash against LGBTQ+ people has directly impacted the goth community, said Giselle Torres, an ASU alum who participates in the Arizona goth scene.

As of early February, the ACLU has classified 11 Arizona bills as "anti-LGBTQ." In 2023, the Arizona Legislature attempted to pass four bills governing drag shows that restricted them to certain times of day, required them to obtain permits and criminalized the performance of drag on public property or wherever it "could be viewed by a minor." The bills were able to pass the Arizona Senate, but they were ultimately vetoed by Gov. Katie Hobbs.

On campus, ASU PD said it was investigating an incident last semester in which a queer ASU professor was allegedly attacked by members of right-wing group Turning Point USA as a hate crime.

During times of political hostility, goth spaces have stood as sanctuaries for those in the LGBTQ+ community, Torres said. She believes the connection between the two communities was forged around both groups' tendency to subvert traditional gender roles and diverge from societal norms.

"You know, the whole topic of being alternative is you're doing something outside the norm," Syfritt said. "You're making a statement in whatever element that you want, and every statement that's made can be political."

Alternative culture

Even though those who dress alternatively suffer harassment and negative stereotypes, many still find a home in a vibrant and diverse community. As a broad label, alternative style can be hard to nail down definitively, but in Syfritt's opinion, it's "just anything that's not corporate."

"You know, goths are all just nerds that just don't fit in anywhere else," he said. "They're nerdy outcasts that veer on the darker side of life."

When she came to ASU, Torres found that college was a welcome space to express herself in ways she wasn't able to when she was living with her parents. For the first time, she would often receive compliments on her outfits.

Her favorite memory was during Halloween, when she teased her hair up into a giant deathhawk, a mohawk-like hairstyle that's characterized by long, backcombed hair on top with the sides shaved.

"There would be kids walking around campus in their little Disney princess costumes, and they'd be like, 'I like your hair,'" she said. "And I'd be like, 'Heck yeah.'"

The moment Taylor stepped outside the Starbucks at the Memorial Union, a girl complimented her outfit. Adorned in a lacy black top and skirt with a furry cheetah-print jacket and a statement red pendant, she was dressed to the nines.

Music, which has long had a presence in alternative culture, has heavily influenced her style. In fact, it was only when Taylor began getting into metal music that she started experimenting with darker styles.

"I want other people to ... look at me and be like, 'Oh, that bitch probably listens to metal,' and then come up to me," she said. "Then we can share interests."

Even though Taylor hasn't found a large alternative community on campus, she said her personal style hasn't kept her from making friends with students who don't dress like her.

"Basic bitches love me," she said.

Edited by Camila Pedrosa, Savannah Dagupion and Madeline Nguyen. 

This story is part of The Culture Issue, which was released on Feb. 28, 2024. See the entire publication here.

Reach the reporter at and follow @BippusKeetra on X. 

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Keetra BippusMagazine Reporter

Keetra Bippus is a reporter for State Press Magazine and a journalism student at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She's previously reported for AZ Big Media and the Downtown Devil. 

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