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Mean Girls? A Culture of Cliques

Published: Monday, February 21, 2005

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 20:01

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Cliques are common on campus, but they take a less aggressive form than high school cliques. They serve to improve, not hinder students´ social lives.

In the popular movie Mean Girls, the "Plastics" are the social pinnacle of the high school hierarchy, immortalized through the barrage of teen-themed movies focused on this issue. The breathtakingly dense character named Gretchen reflects, "I'm sorry that people are so jealous of me ... but I can't help it that I'm so popular!"

Embedded in our social consciousness, this perceived upper echelon of popularity is embodied by designer purses, chemically altered appearances, and copious amounts of pink.

According to the plethora of movies on the subject, Hollywood asserts that normal people only hate cliques because they just want to be included too.

Lauri Carrick, a high school guidance counselor at nearby Andover High School, observed, "In general, at the high school, some girls did convey a sense of superiority, but not many - and [specific students] personally didn't care."

In high school, cliques exist for security. They are something to hold on to as you start to venture beyond your comfort zone.

"They served as safety nets for people to feel like they belonged and were accepted. Cliques in high school are mainly made up of the same type of people, who try to dress the same, act the same, and hang out at the same places with more people just like them," said Katharine Patten, A&S '06, who worked this summer as an Orientation Leader for incoming freshmen.

Then you graduate, pack everything you own into the family station wagon (or an airplane), and you arrive on the Boston College campus, ready to be free from the limiting cliques that defined teenage society in your high school.

"I think most students see beginning as a college freshman as an opportunity to leave behind whatever social expectations they dealt with in high school," says Patten. "You're way more mature as an 18-year-old at a new school than a 14-year-old. College is an opportunity to get past having to deal with the 'cool crowd' and begin to figure out who you really are and what kind of people you value as friends."

A significant component of college, beyond striving for a higher GPA and overloading on extracurricular activities, is establishing yourself independently, without preconceived expectations from peers or stifling parental supervision.

A lot of students, therefore, do not want to be boxed into strictly established, exclusive groups of friends

"[College is] a challenge and part of that challenge is finding yourself as an individual, rather than just a member who fits into a bigger group," says Patten.

Many students, however, still feel that cliques exist within BC.

"There are definitely cliques at BC and I think that they are both based on superficial reasons and because of shared interests that they have. I don't think that BC's campus is any worse off than any other college campus," says Omolara Bewaji, A&S '07.

The purpose of cliques is not always negative or elitist. With 9,000 undergrads at the University, they can be necessary to make the school manageable.

Without cliques, the first fragile friendships formed as a freshman would be a lot tougher, and the first weeks at school would be a lot more daunting.

"Cliques exist because you need to make your school smaller," says Rebecca Buckley, A&S '08.

And while cliques may be inevitable, the context shifts from the stringent high school structure that we are familiar with.

"A lot of the traditional high school cliques are eliminated or changed," says Katie Cisto, A&S '06.

"I don't see there being the same kind of cliques as in high school," says Andrew Cole, CSOM '06. "Nobody outwardly excludedspeople, at least not me."

"The cliques on campus are more like social groups," says Ethan Gregor, LSOE '06.

The size of the school and the evolved purpose of cliques lead to an amorphous structure to the social scene, eroding the image of labeled groups, ranked according to merit - or "strata" as one freshman referred to them.

"I think that there is less of a hierarchy of groups in college as opposed to high school where there is a definite totem pole of cliques. In college, there is still a remnant of that hierarchy but its not as blatant," says Bewaji.

While cliques still exist, the manipulative authority they wielded in high school is diminished in the college environment.

"Here, you can talk to anyone," says Buckley. "You're not afraid of what your friends will say, people don't care like they did in high school."

There are certain stereotypes present at BC, but they are not enforced as a threat of social exclusion. Patten refers to this unspoken standard as the "quintessential 'BC girl.'" Conforming to this image, however, is not essential for achieving social success; different people, dependent on personal perspective, perceive the pressure differently.

Superficial qualifiers for cliques, rather than bonding over shared images, can exist. As Cisto points out, "that's pretty much established by which clique you belong to."

Although some groups can be characterized by a specific style, "That doesn't mean this is bad, it can sometimes be a unifying identification." says Cisto. The importance of cliques is generally contingent on the innate values and security of the individual, not on an externally enforced social structure.

College students are assumed to have moved beyond the limitations and stereotypes - and Hollywood's dramatic rendition - of high school. They are to just be who they are, regardless of the former label of cheerleader, nerd, or party girl ... right?

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