Student clubs help bridge culture gap among years

Katie Brobst, Assistant Life Editor

College is about connections, and while it’s easy to meet people in your year, there seems to be a growing social distance between students of different ages.

“I don’t know any first-years,” senior Zach White said. “I don’t avoid them, I’m just not in any classes with them.”

Academic distance between first year and senior students is clearly created by a difference in the classes they are taking, but this separation goes beyond the classroom.

Sophomore Emma Bielicki said she has also encountered this social gap.

“Especially being a transfer student,” Bielicki said, “finding that way to connect with upperclassmen is really difficult.”

A large reason behind this social separation seems to be locality. While first-years are required to live in residential halls, many juniors and seniors now choose to rent houses and apartments off campus.

First-year Thaya Zalewski, who currently lives in Living and Learning, said she interacts with more new students than upperclassmen.

“We’re trying to find friends among the people we see, and the majority of [whom] are first-years,” Zalewski said.

Senior Jessie Rauseo, who lives off campus, said she has had a similar experience.

“I love talking to new students, but don’t have the opportunity very often,” Rauseo said. “I think that stems from physical distance. First-years are on campus most of the time, but if I’m not at class or the library, I’m at work or my apartment.”

Although juniors and seniors are being offered on-campus housing again, anthropology professor Luis Vivanco said he has noticed a new social norm.

“There are there certain policies that divide you into units and groups, and I think there is that housing thing,” Vivanco said. “This is beyond policy; now there is a cultural expectation to move off campus.”

In addition to the separation caused by housing, a lack of school spirit contributes to the distance between students, he said.

“I don’t see strong identification with classes here,” Vivanco said, “but I do see that [upperclassmen] exert certain kinds of pressures on younger students to get them to conform to the student culture around here.”

There is a “coolness” associated with apathy toward the institution, and new students pick up on this after a few weeks of observing upperclassmen, he said.

The student culture at UVM encourages one to identify more with clubs, sports teams and other groups rather than one’s class year or the University as a whole, Vivanco said.

Maybe this identification with smaller groups could be the answer to fixing the gap between new students and upperclassmen.

Dave Landay, a 2016 graduate said he narrowly avoided the social gap when he attended UVM as an undergrad.

“I experience it at first, but then I got into club sports,” Landay said. “We were hanging out with upperclassmen anyway because we were all teammates, so that sort of made me more comfortable around people who were older.”

Though there is a tangible separation between classes due to the contrast in residential locations, getting involved in multi-age clubs, sports and organizations can help to close the gap.