“On Wednesdays, we wear pink” is perhaps the most recognizable statement of clique culture. The “mean girls” always sit together, they date the cutest guys in school, they wear the prettiest clothing. But we tend to laugh at satires like “Mean Girls.” “Come on,” we think to ourselves. “Who really does that?” And in truth, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a friend group distinguish itself by the colors of its members’ outfits — so, at face value, bemusement is definitely appropriate.
But even though we might not be wearing pink, “Mean Girls” is still cruelly applicable to college life. People still form and spend time in cliques, although they aren’t nearly as obvious as they are in the film. People eat lunch with the same people every day and go to the Street with the same friends, often excluding those who might want to join in.
When sitting in a completely empty dining hall with a few friends, I noticed how groups of acquaintances (“friend groups,” you could say) who entered sat as far away from us as possible, even though there was plenty of space at our table. Everyone in the dining hall knew everyone else and inhabited the same community, but there was certainly no sense thereof.
After we had left, I commented on the phenomenon to my friends, who had all noticed the same thing. Had we done something? We each racked our brains: Maybe someone smelled bad; maybe we ourselves had been exclusionary. Various options were possible. That said, it was painfully obvious that no one had wanted to sit with us and showed us that in a remarkably unsubtle way.
I was hurt that evening, but then I got around to thinking: Had I ever excluded someone that way? Had I ever purposely avoided them in order to stay with the people I know better?
Let’s face it: I had. I contribute to clique culture, too. While I like to think of my “friend group” as open, we’ve probably been fairly exclusionary on multiple occasions. I can certainly think of one or two where someone’s approached me when I’m with my friends, only to have me shut them down because I felt that they didn’t belong with my current “entourage.”
But how about your “entourage?” Does it exclude others? Are you excluding others? Be honest with yourself: You probably have. It’s easier to stay with only your friends, at others’ expense. But by the same token, have you considered that others notice this behavior? Have you considered that you are potentially harming your relationships across campus by literally and figuratively not making room for those who haven’t already ingratiated themselves into your “group”?
I’m not saying to abolish friend groups; it’s only natural that you spend time with people you like. Eat lunch with them; go to the movies with them. Social sorting is, to some degree, inevitable. We weed out the relationships that aren’t important to us. But it’s fair to say that in doing so, we preemptively weed out friendships without ever meaningfully interacting with the person we rejected.
We’ve all been that rejected person — and it doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel good to know that someone doesn’t want you in their “group” without ever getting to know you. So examine your actions over the next few weeks and ask yourself if you’re rejecting people because it’s easier to do so or if you truly believe that you wouldn’t be compatible.
While I realize that almost no clique distinguishes itself by wearing pink on Wednesdays, there are other ways to leave others out. Next time you are tempted to ignore others in the dining hall or at a study break, because they aren’t in your “group,” remember that such exclusion might be causing them pain and might be causing you to miss out on what might otherwise be a worthwhile friendship.
Leora Eisenberg is a sophomore from Eagan, Minn. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.