Familiarity can afford upperclassmen a sense of superiority on a college campus as small as Furman’s. Walking into a classroom you frequented last semester, saying hello to a favorite teacher, and sitting next to a face you recognize allows you to experience a feeling of familiarity that bolsters your confidence. While this sense of superiority benefits upperclassmen who are acquainted with campus and have already made friends, it often leaves freshmen and new club members feeling excluded and alone.
No matter what groups we join, we, as human beings, are almost always able to identify who we feel is superior to us within a group (academically, socially, or for some other reason) and who we feel superior to within it. Whether it is a conscious recognition or subconscious understanding, this realization explains why our first instinct when entering a new classroom isn’t to go up to a group of three students talking amongst themselves and insert ourselves into the conversation. In social settings on college campuses, someone's sense of superiority within a group may not stem from anything they say or do, but rather how comfortable or anxiety-free they feel in that environment and with those people.
However, walking into a club alone where attendance is based on choice is much different from walking into a classroom alone. Teachers don’t have an obligation to promote bonding among their students when each of them is taking the class for a different reason. In comparison, clubs are unified under a shared mission and operate best when everyone feels heard and worthy to participate in collaboration.
Therefore, it is imperative for both the atmosphere of a group and the well-being of individual students for upperclassmen to foster an environment of inclusivity, friendliness and equality for each and every new student of the club or organization. New students are taking a leap of faith by joining a club or organization at a new school, potentially in a new town, away from home. Taking the easy way out (i.e. sticking only to old or familiar friends) excludes newcomers. This display of invite-only comfort is not only harmful to the overall mood of the group but can also prevent a new student from wanting to try new things by joining a club or organization.
At times, it can be difficult to not let territoriality win over the intention to be welcoming. As a senior or junior, having been with a club for three or four years can make it feel like something that belongs to you. You feel responsible for its image, its meeting schedule, and its goals. But new members are the future of your club and will invest in its work the more you go out of your way to welcome them. At the same time, the environment you create will live on and determine how the club operates after you graduate.
Think back to how you felt about joining your first club or organization. Who was someone whose actions or behaviors made you feel welcomed and wanted by other club members? What can you do to create that same sense of belonging for newcomers? If that was not your experience joining a club or organization here at Furman, I implore you to be the change that you want to see on campus. Reach out to the students you saw stop by your table at the Involvement Fair. Wave to new members you see in the hallway. It truly is little exchanges like these that help make new club members feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves and an organization that wants them to be there.