The other day, I decided I was going to make some new friends. So I tried to find new friends!
I walked into Trillium, grabbed myself a quesadilla and headed upstairs. I scanned the room, found a table with two strangers (read: potential friends) and excitedly walked up to the table. I introduced myself and asked if I could sit. They agreed, and before I could even say another word, the two individuals went back to their conversations, ignoring any attempt I made to insert myself in what they were talking about. How sad! I tried to crack a joke. The two people shared a look before uncomfortably telling me I could have the table to myself. And then they got up. I made no new friends!
I sat in Trillium, dumbstruck. Why doesn’t everyone want to make new friends?
Sometimes I think back to freshman year and reminisce about the times when people wanted to find new friends. I remember it being normal walking down the hall to introduce yourself, feeling okay to introduce yourself to the people who you’re sitting with in class. It seemed normal for people to approach one another in the dining hall to get to know each other the first few weeks. But where did that energy go?
After our freshman year, we are less likely to move outside of our comfort zone and create new networks of friends outside of our student organizations and where we live. I often think about the path down which many Cornell students travel. We arrive and meet our friends where we live. We end up joining similar organizations or a Greek house before deciding to live together junior and senior year. At Cornell, we have an incredible opportunity to live and learn with the most talented people from around the world, but too often it seems like, after a certain amount of time, we no longer put ourselves in a position to meet the curated community we have in front of us. Why are we not taking advantage of the opportunity to meet others in their community?
When we come to a community as large as Cornell, we naturally gravitate toward those with whom we feel most comfortable. Oftentimes, this impulse results in us finding friends that align with our personal identities and beliefs. Norms and values develop as a result of these partnerships of like individuals and while befriending people just like yourself is great, it is important to understand the impact that our comfort with people has upon our ability to engage across difference.
Recent events on and off campus have made me more aware of how we often fail to learn how to engage across difference. Conversations revolving around diversity and inclusion have been primarily focused on the knowledge of diversity rather than the process of engaging with the other. If we want to create a more inclusive community, we must take the opportunity to empathize and humanize each other. The work that we do within our own identity groups is incredibly important, but the skills that we gain when we actively engage across difference are invaluable.
I came to Cornell because I knew it presented me with the opportunity to meet students from all walks of life. I urge the entire Cornell community to take this opportunity and act on the chances we have to make a difference in each other’s perspectives. We are so incredibly lucky to have the chance to learn and grow from each other’s personal narratives. It is time we engage with the other in an effort to create a culture of understanding and acceptance.
If we want to create systemic change in our world, why not start building community across difference at an institution where we are attending alongside the leaders of tomorrow?
And if I ask to sit next to you in Trillium, don’t be spooky. Be friendly!
Dustin Liu is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He is the undergraduate student-elected trustee on the Cornell Board of Trustees. He can be reached at [email protected]. Trustee Viewpoint appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.