Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Midd’s Social Poles by D. Redmond

This past weekend I traveled down to Amherst College to celebrate my cousin’s 21st birthday. Both day and evening were packed with fun events: a football tailgate on a beautiful fall day, a French dinner at one of the town’s finest restaurants, and a celebratory birthday-bash at a nearby “underground frat” (Amherst’s social house equivalent). My one-day excursion seemed, at the moment, to be reminiscent of any Saturday at Middlebury College, but it wasn’t until I returned to campus that I realized there was something very different: the social cliques had an entirely different structure.

The birthday party at the social house was full of different personalities: there were jocks, but they were not from the same team; there were artsy kids, but they were participating in all of those celebrated fratty traditions; and there were hippies, but they were grooving to the latest Brittney Spears jam. Thinking back, I wondered if these groups would ever converge at a Middlebury party? While there are exceptions to every rule, I answered myself with a general “no,” and concluded that Middlebury has a very bifurcated social structure. There are the athletes who host righteous bash’s, there are the artsy kids who attend trippy parties at the Mill, and there are the outdoorsy kids (the extreme dudes) who enjoy laid-back get togethers that seem to be sponsored by Vermont’s most prestigious microbreweries.

At first I thought myself narrow-minded for holding such generalized perceptions of the Middlebury social scene; however, it was after having several conversations with various people that I realized the accuracy of my description. Sophomore lacrosse player Zach Harwood said, “I mostly socialize in the Atwater suites with my team.” When asked about the Mill, he responded, “I don’t really know how to think of it. I’ve never really been there, but I hear it’s pretty strange.” This seems to be normal at Midd – hanging with the team. There are various reasons, I think, for why teams fraternize in the way they do. One person said: “I think that the strong bonds that the players form off the field help them perform better on the field. It might also be the absence of frats or the lack of significant social house participation. Teams fill that void, and I think that is, in a way, necessary.” Either way, athletes certainly constitute a large part of the social scene at Midd.

Spawning from the opposite end of the spectrum come the alternative crowds. It seems that part of this end was created almost in rebellion to the athletic, fratty scene – a definitive counter-culture. When asked where he likes to socialize, Dave Small ’09 said; “I have the best times at small gatherings since people can talk instead of grinding in the sweaty social houses. I think the Mill is the most fun social house since it has good bands playing. I also like to try to hang out with different people. I don’t really go to many “team” parties, but I do have friends that are athletes.” Haik Kavookjian ’09 had a similar response: “I like to socialize in Dave Small’s bedroom. Honestly, I haven’t spent more than 15 minutes at a party this year – actually more like 30. I feel like the football team is the least exclusive team, while the Lacrosse and Hockey teams seem to have a stronger clique.”

From my talks, I realized that the social houses aren’t a very popular commodity at Midd. “The only places where we need blue lights are in the social houses,” Israel ’09 added with humor.

The last remaining part of the social spectrum is more ambiguous, and it is the grey area (the space in between the alternative and sporty poles). These people don’t commit either way; instead, they embody what is present in both sides of the social extremes. Will Atlas ’10 said, “I like to socialize wherever people seem to be enjoying themselves the most. I like to mix things up; I don’t really like to commit to one social scene. In one way I like hanging with the athletic crowd and in another the artsy crowd.”

Out of my many conversations like this one, I was able to gather a similar perspective: In general, people feel the polar opposites might be at odds a little bit too much – stuck in their comfort zone and absorbed in their scene. This inevitably leads to various flaws, mostly because the groups think they are the best in some way. The hippies, for example, may boast to know more about Trey Anastasio’s face melting solos than anyone else, and therefore are better for it. In the same vein, the athletes might make someone feel uncomfortable or out of place at a gathering by acting raucously and bombastic, and the artsy crowds might sometimes be too captious. However, this might be the way people are inclined to act. “Each group has their own faults, but that’s the way things are. No grouping of people can ever be perfect,” pointed out Sam Dungan ’10

Maybe these groups should exist; maybe that’s the way things work out best. I find it hard to commit to either side of the social spectrum because I do not want to be identified as belonging to a certain, particular crowd. Elianna Kan ’10 agreed; “I like to hang out with different people and I try to keep an open mind when I go out.”

Maybe I am too quick to judge the social scene at Midd. Come Junior and Senior year, people may mature and grow out of their comfortable cliques. While at Amherst I was hanging out with mostly Juniors and Seniors; however, I would love to attend a party at Middlebury, similar to the one mentioned earlier, where there are a diverse set of personalities. I think people should take the mentality of a man much wiser than myself, Jeff Spicoli, who wisely said, “Hey bud, let’s party.”

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