First year impressions
Upperclassmen should learn from and appreciate the friendly and extroverted nature of first years
Early fall of my first year, I was meandering down McCormick Road toward the Engineering School, backpack clenched tight, when a car approached and four older scholars from inside the vehicle asked me, “Where is Clemson Library?” I may not have known many buildings yet, but I had studied in Clemons Library the prior evening. I jumped at the opportunity to disprove my newbie status, “Oh you mean Clemons … it’s right down the str…”
“NERD!” they shouted and sped off. Later on, I reconciled the story with the few contacts I had made so far and realized I had fallen for one of the classic pranks from the upperclassmen geared toward first-year students.
In my column last week, I attempted to dole out guidance to the new students trickling onto Grounds. I have since realized from living with these creatures for just over one week — I am a Resident Assistant (RA) — that perhaps upperclassmen can take some hints from the behavior of first-year students.
In my dormitory, though it is just a sample of a much larger ecosystem, I have been observing the mating and feeding patterns of first year. During the first years’ early developmental stages, feeding occurs primarily in packs. As an RA, I was encouraged during the first few days to round up my hall and train them about where to forage. Along the way, I helped spark conversation at the table, but eventually the process began to happen naturally and became nearly autonomous.
The early autonomous phase is when the first year is aware he has the capability to make conversation but does not yet have a pack to which he can default. Consequentially, I witness first years spontaneously introducing themselves to others, longing for acquaintance. One even came up to me in the laundry room last week. This phase is wonderful — people are nice to each other, interested in each other and willing to try new things!
After the early autonomous phase, however, the first year weaves her cocoon in preparation for the cold winter months. Acquaintances are streamlined and a firewall is erected to defend against disruptions from outstanding work. Needing to survive the winds of Aeolus, the Greek God, during spring rush and pledging, the cocoon can only harden. Eventually, the first years whom I was cursing just last week for lagging up the lines in the dining halls by talking to each other in the least befitting spots mature into strangers to another.
I am bothered by the fact that the interactions and general friendliness I see now will go away. I cannot remember the last time I’ve had lunch with someone with whom I had not already been acquainted, yet currently I watch first-year students pull tables together at Observatory Hill Dining Hall and form impromptu groups.
“The first couple months of college brings up an interesting phenomenon where you can spontaneously approach a stranger and strike up a conversation, and that’s completely appropriate … it’s a good thing,” third year Joe Choi, an Orientation Leader, said.
I believe this first-year effect is directly related to crowd psychology, and only by changing the individual attitudes of a majority can we prevent the community’s cocoon from forming. More forums such as Flash seminars or websites could be better suited for unraveling this mystery that living with the untamed first year has now brought to my attention.
Andrew Kouri’s column appears biweekly Thursdays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.