Spontaneity and first-year social structure

Photo courtesy of Jason Juang, Student Publications

Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly hungry, I go swipe in at the North Avenue dining hall to eat a quick meal before going back to my apartment.

And on occasion, I have overheard the incredibly captivating conversation between newly acquainted freshmen in the dining halls.

These discussions range from the highly provocative debates in fruit rankings to curious conversations of why Tech is missing its T’s.

All of this conversation had me wondering: what makes the first-year social experience so much more different?

As a first-year, you are required to sign onto the meal plan and are generally required to live in first year housing barring a few exceptions.

The first-year experience is felt through the general excitement and eagerness to meet new people that might make you want to sit with someone you briefly met during the week of welcome or meet someone new in the halls of your dorm.

During the week of welcome, first-years can spend a week acquainting themselves with campus and general college living while meeting others during random events and mixers that are hosted during that week.

The first-year experience is a communal one where the opportunities to meet others are given to you in as large of a quantity as you would like them to come.

Interestingly enough, after your second year on campus, these opportunities seem to diminish.

There are plenty of good reasons as people find more time commitments such as cooking their own food, traveling campus from their apartments, or more rigorous coursework.

Tech’s grant to students to choose whether or not they should have a meal plan greatly reduces the amount of non-freshman students in their dining halls.

However great the benefits of cooking your own apartment, there is a decrease in sociability in the older students who still remain in the dining halls.

Additionally, with the benefits of living in an apartment also comes the knowledge that you probably will not meet many of the people on your floor. While that is not terrible, it is another aspect of socialization that is gone once people move out of the first-year dorms.

The eagerness to meet people is gone and accompanied with the stress of harder classes you might find yourself meeting fewer and fewer people.

With classes, getting to know your classmates is fairly transient unless the classes are project based where you might meet with your team separately outside of normal lecture hours.

However, opportunities to meet others remain constant with social organizations, interest clubs and Greek life.

When meeting people isn’t as easy as going to your dorm or going to get food at a dining hall, meeting people becomes a task.

Finding the time to do it and having to allocate time to go to events might be that one step preventing people from meeting others. These things can happen during all years of college, but they just are not as available as randomly bumping into anyone that you see during the first year.

In essence, the first-year social experience can be defined by the encounters that first years have at their residential dorms and their dining halls, and unfortunately the reduction of these opportunities in later years means socialization must be much more intentional.