The Colgate Clique Phenomenon

Lee Tremblay, Maroon-News Staff

During my years at Colgate, I’ve participated in quite a few clubs, some in more depth than others, but in almost every one, I’ve noticed a desire to bond, and, weirdly, to form a smaller group or groups within the group.

The word “clique” has negative, elitist, Mean Girls associations. Being called cliquish is an accusation of snobbery, unkind behavior and perhaps immaturity. After all, aren’t cliques high school (or even elementary school) behavior?

Yet I think we have a clique problem at Colgate, one that the community not only permits, but also fosters with our careful social subdivisions. It’s easy to understand; from a high schooler’s perspective, college can seem like a big, scary place and the prospect of making new friends is  daunting. We all want to fit in, so students drive the creation of exclusive social cliques: fraternities and sororities, of course, but also academic groups, arts groups and even volunteer groups. We judge each other to decide who’s in and who’s out. Not every student group is like this – I think the majority are at least ostensibly open to all, and relatively few involve peer discrimination. To the best of my knowledge, not every college is like this, or at least certainly not to the extent of Colgate.

Possibly in an attempt to push back against some of these cliques, the administration inadvertently assists in the creation of cliques with summer programs that bring like-minded rising first-years together before they even begin college, throwing them together intensively. More recently, their strategy has been creating selective classes like the Sophomore Residential Seminars and the new Residential Commons. And, of course, there are all the different centers and lounges for each discipline around campus bearing free food.

This is not intended to be an attack on all of these cliques on campus. I don’t mean to criticize the people who are in them, create them or perpetuate them. I certainly can’t throw shade indiscriminately, since I’m in a few myself. Rather, I want us to recognize these things for what they are: ways in which we define ourselves by what we’re not – by who we exclude. It doesn’t have to be mean or ill-intentioned, although in some cases it may be, but regardless, we should check in with ourselves and reconsider this impulse.

Part of the advertising in all of those pretty pamphlets about the college experience touts diversity and encourages expanding horizons through making new and different friends. Maybe that’s about class, gender, appearance, politics or geography. Maybe it’s something as simple as what we’re interested in. Whatever the case, I believe it’s incredibly important, not as a box to check off but as an organic way to learn from each other, to see a new perspective and maybe to grow up a little.

If, from the very start of pre-orientation with Link groups and residence hall groups and the Colgate ideal of joining more clubs than humanly possible, we learn to find our niche, to find where we belong, that’s not a bad thing. But we could also stand to learn to live with a little more discomfort and talk with someone with a radically different viewpoint, even if that just means an Astrophysics major sitting down with an English student.

The liberal arts experience is unique primarily for its opportunities to engage with differences. So take advantage: start a conversation with someone you normally wouldn’t. Go to an event, even if your friends aren’t interested. Do a group project with class members you don’t know very well. And next time you feel like making an exclusive group within the Colgate bubble, think harder about it.