For many Stanford students, the mere mention of NSO immediately elicits multiple flashbacks to MemAud. I remember sitting in the dim auditorium, waiting for the next event to commence, watching freshmen rise in staggered waves to belt out their dorm chants with varying levels of enthusiasm.
As the most spirited dorms began to engage in a chant showdown, I overheard several students commenting upon the tribal nature of the entire experience. “Yo, I feel like I’m witnessing a cult right now,” many jokingly remarked. I laughed, amused. The analogy was surprisingly accurate. I was in awe of the sheer amount of energy and group identity in the room – yet I found myself pleasantly surprised by the instant bonds forged around me, created simply by virtue of being part of a freshman dorm.
I have to admit, NSO is extremely well devised on Stanford’s part. As a member of an all-frosh dorm on east campus, with an amazing dorm community and RAs, NSO created an immediate, lasting sense of inclusivity – something I still strongly feel. My dorm has become my home, and I mean that in more than just the “I happen to sleep in this building” sense of the word.
But flash forward to the present. It’s now been four weeks since the class of 2021 set foot on campus; midterms and clubs are almost in full swing. Yet dorm life still plays such an integral role in my social life. No – dorm life completely dominates my social life. I wake up with my dorm, eat meals with my dorm, go to classes with members of my dorm, attend all social events with my dorm and go to bed with my dorm. Basically, I still do everything with my dorm, even though NSO is over. Sound like a bit much?
The idea that my physical location – that my randomly determined proximity to various individuals that comprise my dorm community – has played and will play such an influential role in the next year of my life at Stanford is almost laughable. How different would my Stanford experience be if I had been put in the house just a few feet across from mine? When will I get to meet freshmen who were randomly assigned to dorms on the opposite end of campus?
Don’t get me wrong. I love my dorm family. It’s nice knowing that there are always people nearby there for you. It’s been really refreshing to be able to develop deep, meaningful bonds with people – I always pictured having to “speed date” potential friends in the beginning of college, and the dorm community’s immediate acceptance has allowed us to delve straight past the superficial aspects of friend-making in new environments.
But relatively speaking, my dorm consists of a finite number of individuals in comparison to the rest of the student body. There are so many people left to meet. I should try to extend myself past my immediate vicinity.
Supposedly, through interest-based clubs and other social events, I will be able to meet more members of the diverse Stanford community and develop meaningful relationships with them. Yet the laws of inertia seem to dictate otherwise. It’s just more convenient and easier to develop a relationship with someone who lives down my hall than with someone who lives on the other side of Stanford campus. Statistically speaking, it’s more likely that these repeat interactions, rather than brief, hazy interactions with new people at frat parties, will blossom into meaningful relationships.
There’s really no right solution to my dilemma: How does one create a supportive, active dorm community for freshmen while also encouraging them to branch out and meet others? Is it even possible to say that a dorm qualifies as “too tight”? Theoretically, the answer should be “No, never! One can never create too much of a support system.” It sounds inherently wrong to say that a dorm community is “too close.”
But then I think about how my dorm acts at social events: Sometimes, when we roll through a party, we announce ourselves with our dorm’s chant; we do our dorm’s hand signs every time we see each other; and our conversations center around dorm-related inside jokes. The sense of belonging is solidified day after day. Why would anyone want to branch out of this?
The dangerous aspect of this behavior isn’t that we enjoy each other’s company too much. It’s that this behavior isn’t conducive to meeting non-dorm members. A welcoming safety net created by the dorm community is laudable, but when the safety net becomes too strong, and we have no real need or desire to meet new people – that’s where the danger lies.
I anticipate that as the year progresses, people will start branching out more. Dorm communities will still be close without remaining completely dependent upon one another for socialization. But for now, I can’t help wondering: Is Stanford dorm identity just a little too strong?
Contact Sejal Jhawer at sejalj ‘at’ stanford.edu.