Back in the Valley: Untangling the sincerity and artificiality of the College’s social culture

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to return to campus to start my seventh semester, but something felt off and I struggled to determine the cause. In many ways, I felt comfortable amidst the energies that people usually bring with them into the fall semester: hopeful, smiling, as they connect with old and new friends. I even found myself sharing in this energy, welcoming friends back from abroad while simultaneously looking forward to an extremely pivotal year. Despite my own subscription to this campus spirit, I felt uneasy chatting with people on campus, and after some time, I came to terms with one of the reasons why I feel put off. I have found myself neck deep in conversations I really do not want to have and they usually begin with the same question: “What did you do this summer?” Although there are transitions from this question that prove quite worthy, more often than not, we are wasting each other’s time and I think we should publicly acknowledge that and some of the problems that can stem from this question.

We attend college on a small campus and, after some time here, we all come to terms with this fact on many different levels. For some people, it is running into that awkward hookup in the dining halls every other meal. For others it is passing half your WOOLF group on the sidewalk every couple of days on the way to class. When you go out, it takes skills to avoid the interactions with people you do not want to talk with beyond a simple hello. On another level, we are all so accessible that it seems the only option that promises relative isolation from people you know is staying in your room and not telling anyone you are there. Good luck remaining anonymous and doing your own thing on this campus. I am convinced your degree of separation from everyone by mid-November will be two people at most, which means you will likely see someone you know in every social context you can imagine. The reality of this arrangement stems from the fact that everyone here finds themselves forced within so many different communities the moment they step onto this campus. It can become challenging to come to a sense of self outside of these groups. In my opinion, this stems from our social culture’s tendency to primarily foster and develop non-intentional group formations such as entries and orientation groups, while declining to give equal weight to the intentional communities that people immerse themselves within.

Once again, there is nothing wrong with the groups cited. It would just be nice if there were less stigma attached to people who are unwilling to contribute or who contribute conservatively to those groups. Forming intentional communities here at the College is a task. I think a large amount of first years, and even some second years, struggle to find an acceptable balance between entries, teams, friends, themselves and everything else in the mix. Spend time with the people you want to spend time with on this campus and do not feel obliged to hang out with a group you did not choose.

I say all of this with love. I have met some of the most genuine and interesting people I will probably ever meet in my life on this campus. I actually enjoy spending time with majority of the people I know here. But surviving at this College takes some serious balance. We should also reserve the right to be exclusive with our time, with our emotions, with our intellectual curiosity, with our career aspirations and beyond. No, lunch does not always work. Dinner does not always work. Snack bar does not always work. Sometimes, a meal may never work. This is just reality. Nevertheless, we are whole people, If I am invested enough, I will most likely go unprompted, but if you invite me, I will probably still go to your performance, game or presentation and support you.

In the arc of this exclusivity, it is important to remember the larger community we actively contribute to by attending this College. Rarely have I been in a space where people actively cultivate and so altruistically help support the success and enrichment of everyone around them. I do not think I would be in the position that I am in without my peers and the upperclassmen who extended both their wisdom and helping hands to contributing toward my development. In many ways, I have found myself reciprocating the support they showed me and that process has helped me form links with people in the classes both below and above me. At the same time, this brings me full circle to where I started, remembering where other people are coming from and that perhaps I may be a little more open to chat with them than I expect.

Tyrone Scafe ’17 is an American studies and political science double major from Waukegan, Ill. He lives in Spencer.