(Note: this article is online-only)
The year is almost over, which means that I have successfully made my way through freshman year of college! Wooo! This also means that I have had the past two semesters to cook up some ideas about Wesleyan and our sense of community, or absence thereof. Now that the metaphorical oven timer has gone off and my ideas are ready, I can finally share with you, my eager audience, the precious gems of thought that I have arrived at. While you may disagree with me, I have found that Wesleyan spirit is, well, lacking, at least compared to high school. I think that we must have all felt this from time to time, whether it’s when we doggedly avoid eye contact with someone we vaguely know in Usdan, or when we see an aggressively niche meme in Soggy We$ and think, “Wow, I just cannot relate to the idea that Swings is made of bees.” I attribute this deficiency of school spirit to a lack of social media culture, the division of students into academic and extracurricular groups, and the dearth of all-school or all-grade activities.
The first factor behind Wesleyan’s lackluster sense of solidarity is the absence of social media as a significant part of people’s interactions. In my high school’s Facebook-centric culture, it was common to friend people in your grade who you didn’t personally know, as long as you knew of them from one of the many “class of 2018” Facebook groups. Friending someone on Facebook forced you to acknowledge their existence as their face popped up all over your FB feed in photos, profile picture updates, and even their friends’ posts. Assuming that you went along with the status quo and posted a lot online, then you could also be relatively sure that your classmates would be hazily aware of your existence as well. Because Wesleyan, in my estimation, doesn’t have such a social media culture, there is no easy way to become familiar with your fellow students other than meeting them all in person. This also means that there’s no way to guarantee that your classmates are familiar with you, the point being that people are often reluctant to greet their classmates in Usdan out of fear that said classmate won’t know who they are. Overall, there isn’t an easy way to become aware of who you go to school with unless you encounter them in real life.
However, because Wesleyan students are often divided up into groups, it becomes hard to encounter people in a different group than you. More so than in high school, kids here at Wes tend to stick almost exclusively to their own communities, both academic and extracurricular. Much of the academic in-grouping arises thanks to the open curriculum, because by ensuring that students don’t have to take any classes that they don’t want to, the university is allowing them to create a bubble for themselves. For example, I’m sure that there is a whole community of science-y people who all know each other, but since I am going to try with every fiber of my being to never take a biology class at Wes, I will probably have minimal interaction with those students. This divide is exacerbated even more by how hard it is to make “class friends” in college. In high school, I could chit chat with the people around me (who I often didn’t know thanks to assigned seating) right before and after class started. In college, there is still that same opportunity at the beginning and end of class to socialize, but since most classes only meet two times a week instead of five, the opportunities to befriend your classmates decrease significantly. Therefore, even when you do take a class with people outside your major, it’s often hard to get close to them.
The other contributor to Wesleyan’s self-imposed groupings is the higher time commitment and level of quality of most college extracurriculars. At Wesleyan, people tend to find something that they’re good at or enjoy, and then spend most of their time in that one area with that one group of people. For example, because I am not on a sports team, nor a member of a fraternity, I have practically zero interaction with the Athletes here at Wes. To me, they’re like a mystical race, eating on the fabled loud side, doing sporty things, and generally living their lives in a totally separate sphere from mine. Because there are so many students who operate in these utterly different circles, it becomes hard to identify with a larger Wesleyan community that is significantly comprised of people you’ve never met.
This group phenomenon is only made worse by the fact that once people have divided themselves up according to their interests, there are very few all-campus activities to bring them back together. The biggest activity that I can think of at Wes is Terp, but even that only attracts a certain brand of people who are likely to interact at some point anyway. Wesleyan’s other big traditions, such as the underwear tour during WesFest, champagne on the Olin steps, and Wescam, all bring students together, but never in a significant enough way to get people to stray outside their pre-established groups and create a sense of community.
All of these factors mean that there’s no feeling of “we’re all in this together” because everyone’s experience of Wesleyan is different. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe instead of trying to identify with a larger college community that may or may not exist, I should instead be proud of the unique experience that I’ve had at Wes. Saying “I love Wes” references a totally different community coming from my mouth than it does from the mouth of a sk8r boi or an a capella singer—but, in the end, does that really matter?