With the involvement fair behind us and club application season nearly over, freshmen in the Class of 2026 are charting their futures at Furman and choosing the groups in which they will find community here.
Becoming involved is an exciting step in one's college career. What we are involved in becomes a part of our identities at Furman. Our involvements inform the way we view ourselves and how we introduce ourselves around campus. With such weight to them, these identifiers do help us meet and learn about others, but there is a flip side to perceiving people based on their affiliations. When unchecked, our categorizing and thinking of each other in this way becomes stereotyping, and it prevents us from doing the necessary work of truly getting to know one another – underneath the labels.
This is an issue most pertinent within Greek life and social groups, but it can extend to any student organization–big or small. When a student joins an organization, they are adopting a name which has a reputation around campus. The image of an organization is by not necessarily agreed upon: the way I might perceive one may be entirely different from someone else. But we do form thoughts and opinions–positive, negative, or neutral–about organizations and social groups around campus.
These thoughts infiltrate our early stages of getting to know someone at Furman. When someone mentions a social organization or club they are a part of, it is so easy for us to instantly assume things about them and invent a personality for that person before they've said much more than their name. The danger of this is that it causes us to have an incomplete, and often incorrect, view of that person. I am involved in Pi Kappa Phi and FUSAB, but these two labels hardly capture how I view myself. Yet more often than not, those in Greek life first introduce others to people by their name and their Greek organization.
This stereotyping exists mostly in our minds – rather than as something we talk about with others – but leaving it unchecked has consequences on our entire social scene. Our reliance on labels makes us falsely believe we can learn about a person before actually meeting them. It disregards the complexity of each student here and robs us of the joy of getting to know one another deeply. It can inform who we do or don't choose to interact with based on qualities that tell us almost nothing about them. But most importantly, this labelling makes the act of getting to know new people less frequent and thrilling at Furman than it could be.
There is a part of me that wishes our social scene more often resembled Freshman fall: the only time at which it was truly organic. There were no social labels to inform us about anyone or direct us to or away from them. We had to get to know people personally in order to determine our compatibility. Freshman fall compelled us to meet people we may not have, had these barriers already been established. This is what amounts to meaningful friendships and a strong student body at any school.
I would argue that the central joy of college life is meeting and connecting with new people. Labelling and stereotyping – which at Furman most often stems from social groups or involvements – hinders that experience and partly explains why people become less inclined to form new or unforeseen relationships as they progress in their time at Furman. By less often labelling and learning to see each other for who we truly are, the sentiment of Freshman fall can become our every day reality. But it is up to each of us to break this habit.