We all have campus crushes. The people you are secretly in awe of; you want them to be both your mentor and your best friend. But you’ve only been introduced to them once, and of course now when you pass them on campus you both pretend not to recognize each other. Being outgoing might seem like a freshmen move. To the extent that you try to reach out, you get the impression that they’re not interested, that they’re busy. So you stick to your friends and they stick to theirs. And you continue pursuing your separate lives at Northwestern.
But one day, they join a student group you’re in. You’re excited to spend more time with them. But you’re also relieved – finally an excuse to hang out with them without seeming weird, without seeming desperate. Slowly but surely, you start to become friends.
A few weeks later, you’re studying with them in Norbucks when another friend of yours walks over to chat. Being the socially capable individual you are, you introduce them to one another. By name, yes, but also by student group. “I know her through [group name].”
At Northwestern, it seems two people must have a student group in common to be friends. Before coming here, I expected to have prerequisites for my classes – but not for my relationships. Of course, there is no rule dictating this common ground. But it is a key dynamic within our culture.
When I visited Northwestern as a prospie, I asked a student to tell me her least favorite aspect of the school. “It can sometimes be cliquey,” she told me. “People find their communities quickly and they stick to them.”
In my experience here, this rings true.
Northwestern students are obsessed with affiliations. Don’t get me wrong: In some ways, this way of identifying and grouping is natural. It makes sense that when you introduce a friend to someone else, you explain how you know them. It makes sense that you become friends with the people you see at meetings. You get to know the people you spend time with. Student groups are where one meets people. Yes, that’s logical. That’s natural. That’s normal. That’s good.
But it also seems student groups are needed as a validation of friendship. This has always been my biggest gripe with Northwestern culture, and sorority recruitment a few weeks ago made this fact even more salient for me. Going through recruitment, I met and talked to several girls with whom I really hit it off. I hoped they would end up in the sorority I’m in, and then wondered, why? Why, if I like someone, do I want her to join the club I am in? The easy answer is: Because if we are in a group together, we will spend more time together and get to know one another.
The harder truth is: Northwestern’s culture necessitates an extracurricular common ground for friendship. The trend certainly extends beyond Greek life. In fact I’ve noticed it more prominently in certain non-Greek organizations.
I don’t mean to suggest that all Northwestern students follow these rules. I know people who break them; in fact, they tend to be the people to whom I’m drawn.
I am generally very happy with the social culture here, but when I catch myself and my peers tapping into these norms – pretending to have forgotten people we’ve already met or not pursuing friendships outside of student groups, for example – I’m bummed.
At the beginning of this year, my sophomore year, I had one resolution: to reach out to people I wanted to be friends with. No student group necessary. I decided to avoid always running from one thing to the next. I would make time for relationships. I promised myself I wouldn’t play along with the cliquey, busy, cooler-than-you bullshit.
So far, it has made a difference. Now I’m the person that says hi, that asks your name and remembers it, that reaches out to make plans. I’m not always at my best – I get busy or I slip up and try to act Wildcat-cool. But I’ve been trying. And I’ve been so much happier with my relationships this year because of it. Sometimes at Northwestern, you have to remind yourself to loosen your grip on your ego and be the friend you want to have.
I remember the beginning of my freshman year. Before we partook in the inevitable Northwestern sorting hat game, splitting off into our separate groups. When we introduced ourselves with name, major, hometown, dorm – over and over again. At parties and around campus, we introduced ourselves to strangers. The only thing we had in common was Northwestern. And that was all we needed.
Sharing this campus was sufficient common ground. I want that to still be enough.