September 19, 2010

Running With a Crowd

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Look around your apartment tonight, class tomorrow or social gathering next Friday. More likely than not, you will find yourself associating with people who share many of your interests and qualities. Clearly, this is not an earth-shattering observation. College is the quintessential opportunity to meet and hang out with like-minded individuals. We all form “cliques,” and despite their negative connotations, it would be abnormal not to. But how often do we intermingle with groups we have few connections and share few similarities with? For me, as a result of both intent and coincidence, the answer lately has been a lot.

Backtracking a little, my tenure here at Cornell started as a sophomore transfer. To my surprise, there were actually a significant number of transfers in ILR. In what essentially amounted to a sub-community, I found myself associating with almost only transfers. It was not that there was any intentional alienation of transfer students from the other sophomores, it just seemed that transfers naturally harmonized with the other transfers. So far, during my senior year, I have been hanging out with more non-transfers than I ever have. Interestingly, one of my non-transfer friends was floored when he recently found out that I was a transfer. It is interesting that even after two years there is still some rift between non-transfers and transfers that hasn’t fully disappeared.

The next major instance when I experienced in-group, out-group dynamics was last semester after returning from studying abroad in Dublin. Opting to live on west campus, I entered the lottery and was placed in a suite with four international students and one domestic student. During that semester, I experienced more diversity than I probably ever will again. From trying new foods and learning about the United Arab Emeritus to attending a party where I was one of a handful of white students, I learned how distinctly unique life at Cornell can be for someone who grew up outside of the United States. While everyone I met was welcoming and I definitely learned a ton about different cultures and countries, ironically, there were certainly times when being from New York made me feel somewhat foreign.

This brings us to the current semester, and once again, I have managed to plant myself in a new group. Although it may not be immediately obvious, my two housemates share many similarities which I certainly lack. Most directly, my two housemates have the same name, which tends to generate a little confusion when describing my living situation to others. The most prominent similarity they share that I don’t, however, is that they are members of the swim team. As I am quickly learning, being on a sports team may as well be the equivalent to a fraternity, gang or cult. In addition to the slang such as fly, free and 400, I have been introduced to the swim pregame, swim party and concept of “swimcest.” While most of the swimmers I have met so far are cool and relatively accepting, I still regularly get the question, “So wait, you’re not a swimmer?” I briefly flirted with the idea of devising an intricate story of how I was a child prodigy swimmer before blowing out my shoulder, but decided against it. My housemate put it like this: “We all know you can barely doggy paddle man, just embrace being the one cool non-swimmer we all hang out with.”

I have given this advice a good amount of thought. We all know there is plenty of diversity at Cornell, but its existence and our ability to incorporate it into the groups we form and the people we associate with are two distinct concepts. The argument for the value of diversity and importance of accepting others has been made a thousand times, and it is not what I intended to discuss. For most of my life, I have been one of the people on the inside, a member of some homogenous group. Over the past two years, however, this has increasingly not been the case. Can I claim that I have experienced the magical ideal of diversity? Who knows. At the very least, I have met a bunch of different people and have had a good time. I will continue to try to associate with new groups of people and I think there is definitely value in being the “outsider perspective” sometimes. It might be a good idea, however, to wait and see if all of the swimmers are still so welcoming after a year’s worth of morning practices I won’t be attending.

Shaun Werbelow is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be contacted at [email protected]. Second Opinion appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Shaun Werbelow