By Victor Xu
The two sides of Stern Dining start to flood with hungry students by 12 p.m. each day. As the packed dining hall settles down and the freshmen find their seats, however, a peculiar thing happens—each Stern dorm clusters together in one group of tables, generally with few students outside the dorm sitting with them.
This dining habit is just one symptom of a major concern of students and administrators across campus: that the freshman residential structure may limit the first-year social experience to within the dorm. As connections developed during freshman year can often form the basis of social circles for the remaining three years and beyond, organizations like the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE) and Frosh Council are especially interested in investigating this problem, according to Robert Urstein, dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising.
“We kind of hear this anecdotally a lot, that freshmen wish that they would meet and get to know more people in their class,” he said. “And the question is, how can that happen?”
This year, administrators and student groups have sought to facilitate those interactions by setting up more social events that bring the Class of 2017 together. One such event at the start of winter quarter—Frosh Winter Warm-Up, which was hosted by Frosh Council, Undergraduate Advising and Research (UAR) and the Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation—featured activities from writing New Year’s resolutions to “speed-friending.”
Frosh Winter Warm-Up replaced an event held in prior years called Mid-Year Convocation, a program in Memorial Auditorium where upperclassmen described their Stanford experiences. According to organizers, Mid-Year Convocation was considered to be too passive, considering that a major goal for freshman events like Frosh Formal, dorm mixers and Light Up the Night has been to maximize inter-dorm contact among freshmen.
Frosh Council member Jessica Tam ’17 emphasized, however, that it isn’t solely the responsibility of administrative groups to facilitate socializing outside of primary residences and that freshmen must take advantage of opportunities offered.
“I think there is room for improvement,” she said of Frosh Council’s winter events. “There’s a lot of on-the-surface conversation, when a lot of people just want to have an in-depth conversation. But, I think on a more personal basis, the best way to meet people is just natural interactions, so we have these events but people should really take advantage of them. Just do it in a natural way, not like you ‘have’ to meet these people.”
Urstein echoed that sentiment, noting that out-of-dorm relationships often occur organically through mediums like clubs, activities and small classes like introductory seminars.
“Some of that [diversification] is going to come from the activities you choose to do,” Urstein said. “Some of it comes from taking risks and branching out, even if that means eating at the [Rinconada] table instead of the Otero table. Or, if you’re in Stern, it means going five steps over to the other side of the dining hall from the Twain side and meeting some of your classmates from Larkin. I think people are pretty welcoming to one another, and it may be hard and awkward to do that sometimes, but branching out is good.”
Efforts to boost out-of-dorm connections may come at the expense, however, of dorm community-building, given that freshmen dorm staffs typically seek to advance the latter by measures like encouraging residents to sit and dine together at the beginning of the year.
According to Austin Lewis ’15, a residential assistant for Loro, community-building and out-of-dorm socializing are not necessarily opposed but rather open to being appropriately balanced.
“It’s a give or take,” he said. “If for instance I had a friend in Otero eating at Wilbur sometime, I could have them come over to [Florence Moore Dining], which makes it easier rather than just having everyone just go to one side and forget the other [parts of campus]. I think it is possible but a little more difficult as a freshman just because you’re still trying to get your sense here, and it’s really easy to stay in your dorm.”
Tam emphasized the value of finding that balance, noting that while she has some friends who are content with remaining within the dorm and others who are never around, there is something to be gained from both a strong residential community and strong relationships outside of the residence.
“The reason I really like Stanford is because of the people here, and I’ve found that meeting people from different dorms has given me a lot of different opportunities and perspectives,” Tam said. “I love the people in my dorm, and I’m really close to them, but at the same time I like to have different kinds of interactions and meet different kinds of people. The only way you can do that is by meeting people outside of your dorm.”
Contact Victor Xu at vxu ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.