There is an article that is making the rounds of the internet right now about parenting younger children and the notion of kids excluding others from their social groups; the writer is a mom of a 4th grade girl whose clique at school did not want some new girl to join their group. You can read the whole article here.
The writer uses the word ‘bullying’ – which perhaps is too strong in this case. She described the situation like this: “there was no overt unkindness or name-calling, etc., just rejection; a complete lack of interest in someone [the girls] wrongly concluded had nothing to offer them.”
The article goes on to a larger discussion of how we all to some degree jockey for the best position we can in the social hierarchy. The author writes: “Of course it’s tempting to ‘curry favor’ and ‘suck-up’ to the individual a rung of two above you on the Social Ladder, but every single human being deserves our attention and utmost respect. In spite of this, we have to constantly remind our children and ourselves that everyone can bring unexpected and unanticipated value to our lives. But we have to let them.” [emphasis mine]
While this article is geared towards parents of tweens, I do see some similarities to college aged students. When you come to college, you get a fresh start with a whole new group of people who bring no preconceived notions about who you are. And every student (at every college, not just at Wake) has to navigate new people, new friendships, new clubs and organizations, and new social constructs. It’s a tenuous time for college students from a developmental perspective too – their brains are still growing and going through lots of important milestones (great explanation of those here).
Establishing identity is one of those key developmental milestones. Most college students (whether they realize it or not) are seeking a place to belong, approval from a group of peers, and/or a set of friends so they feel they have their rightful spot on campus. Some of those groups form organically, some are open to all (think faith based groups, volunteering) others have a formal process to join (think try outs for club sports, recruitment for Greek life, applications for leadership positions, etc.). There can be a perceived social hierarchy for those groups or positions, with the thought that some people or groups or clubs or student roles are ‘top tier’ and others not.
As you might expect, the moral of the story is that the writer mom helped her daughter see that the absence of being mean to someone does not equate being nice to them, and that every person has worth and value if you take the time to see it. She encouraged her daughter to use some of her social capital to include the new girl, who reluctantly did. Guess what? They became good friends.
The writer summarized what her daughter learned by giving an ulikely person a chance to be a friend:
“— She learned her initial instinct about people isn’t always correctly motivated.
— She learned you can be friends with the least likely people; the best friendships aren’t people that are your “type!” In the world of friendship, contrast is a plus.
—She learned that there are times, within a given social framework, that you are in a position to make a withdrawal on behalf of someone else. Be generous, invest! It pays dividends.”
Why share this? Because students – both incoming and returning – will constantly have the opportunity to meet new people and decide to be friendly (or not), be inclusive (or not), judge others worthy (or not). This is a time in life to learn, grow, make mistakes – but I would hope people would always err on the side of inclusion and kindness.
Our students are among the very best and brightest in the country. They all have something unique and special to offer our community. While it is tempting to find people who are ‘just like you’ or ‘where I feel like I fit in best’, I would love for every student to branch out and get to know the person on their hall or in their class that isn’t just like them, but might be the most amazing person to know – if they’d give them a chance.
Categories: parents news