Monday, October 22, 2012

The liminal First-Year space

Recently a conversation has begun around campus concerning cliques. You remember them from high school - tables that are islands unto themselves, so distinct and separate that they could almost be labeled. Video game fanatics, football players, cheerleaders, debate team, etc. No one dares tread in the domain of another clique. Immediately you stand out like a sore thumb, don't know any of the inside jokes, there's some sort of unique lingo that you've never even heard before. Thank goodness that all dissipates after graduating into college, right?

Wrong. Everyone groups together. And this is no complaint. This is human nature. Enter Cafe Mac on any given day and you might see a long table of blue and orange track uniforms all chatting excitedly over spinach. Look elsewhere and you'll suddenly hear conversations in Chinese, Korean, Tswana, Spanish, and more. And some tables may even defy conventional labels, yet they still manage to share in jokes that no "outsider" could understand. Is this a bad thing? No! It's natural. We all find people we enjoy spending time with, who we prefer to get to know. You can even bridge divides, with some friends who you're with when you like to go biking or hiking, and another group who enjoys movies and card games.

This leads me to a special phenomenon, which I've pretentiously dubbed "liminal First-Year space." Everyone falls into their niche, their "clique." But when you first enter Macalester as a First-Year you have a very rare and wonderful opportunity: suddenly everyone is your friend. Yes, everyone. You're dropped in the middle of unfamiliar territory, just like all your other peers, and will immediately do what all humans do: search for people to co-mingle with (keep your mind out of the gutter!) Nobody knows anything about anyone else, and so you begin a quest of learning about these hundreds of new people and finding ways to have fun while doing so. Trips to explore the Twin Cities or to Cafe Mac are common, and you should include yourself (forcefully, if necessary) into each and every one. In this "liminal space" where things are in transition, you have the chance to do so much with anyone you'd like to.

Yes, everyone will eventually fall into their own clique. And this isn't a bad thing! You'll find the people who you truly get along with, who you can have a blast with, and who make you happy. They'll become your clique - or at least one of them. You might be surprised how much of this quest for friends can lead to discoveries about yourself as well as about others, as corny as that may sound.

And even if you miss the liminal space, fear not! It's never too late to meet someone new - join a student org, take up a sport, talk to people in class, wander about the Twin Cities. At the very least sit with something that has a pulse when you eat your meals. You never know the crazy character you'll meet next.