Learning and growing: An experimental social life

Opinion by Kyle D'Souza
April 19, 2016, 11:59 p.m.

Rush is over at Stanford, and even 6,000 miles away, I felt its presence. Its influence permeated through photos, Yik Yak posts, Facebook messages from freshmen about advice on rush and endless Snapchats of my sophomore girl friends simultaneously in love yet stressed about rush and their respective sororities. With all of this angst surrounding the rush process, as a sociology major, I can’t help but wonder why we engage in this strange practice, perhaps with more zeal each year? Ask a majority of students in Greek life and you’ll get a similar answer. It usually sounds something like this, “Rush sucks, but spring quarter is awesome,” or a philosophical “the ends justify the means” cliche.

While we are so lucky to be at a place like Stanford with a diverse set of social life and housing options, the idea seems to get stronger each year among freshman that rush is worth the pain of avoiding the sophomore slump. However, looking back a year later, not joining a fraternity has led to the most formative experiences of my Stanford career. It gave me great opportunities and challenges to design my own social life, and it helped me learn more about myself and the sort of communities that I can create. So, for the lucky few who did not find a good fit, were turned off by the rush process, turned down a bid or didn’t get a bid, I hope this story is helpful to you.

There certainly are pluses, as with any community, of being a part of Greek life. So many of my friends love it, and I was enthralled by the idea of joining one as an outsider looking in – an inexperienced freshman whose immigrant parents didn’t even know what a fraternity or sorority was. Greek life gives one a built-in community, a party calendar and a chance to unwind and simply just rage with old and new friends. And, perhaps most importantly, in our culture of FOMO, it’s an insurance card, making sure that we’re never feeling alone, unwanted or uncool. For a kid like me who was and is enamored by the people around me, joining a fraternity only seemed like a positive. However, through rush, I naively got caught up in the process, not realizing that the system, predicated on judgment, was paradoxically against what I stood for.

To me, systems of judgment are tricky. We were all judged in one way or another to get into college, so it’s tough for me to rail against the idea when I am keenly aware that I am apart of it. However, I firmly believe that judgment at Stanford is not only destructive but goes against all that we stand for. From my first days here, I quickly realized that you truly can’t judge a book by its cover. I abide by the belief that every person on this campus has an incredible story or personality and that, for some people, it just takes a little longer to find out what that special thing is.

However, as I went through the rush process, I became one with the campus culture, quicker to judge than ever before. I labeled Phi Psis as engineers, Sig Nus as pretentious nice guys, and SAEs and KappaSigs as vapid. And, as crazy as it sounds, thinking that they were all stoners, I refused to attend Theta Delt’s rush retreat, losing my chance to join the fraternity that may have been the best fit for me.

At the end of the two weeks, I became nothing more than what I tried to stay away from. While I was being judged off the first impressions I gave, I did the same to others, making snap judgments on the people around me and putting too much weight on an imperfect, socially constructed system. So, while I had an incredible spring quarter, I spent the rest of the quarter and the summer reflecting on who I became over those two weeks and how I let a system take over me.

Living in Mirrielees sophomore year was the first time I realized that I could be in charge of my social life. At Stanford, like my interests, my friends have never been restricted to a singular group. They come from my freshman dorm, Camp Kesem, the Bhangra Team, 18 different subjects of classes, Raagapella and even the smoothie line at Wilbur Dining. As a peer facilitator at the design school, I often hang out with my boss and mentor, Gabe Wilson. When I told him this year how my friends are from all parts of campus and about my desire to escape the sophomore slump, he gave me two words of advice: live intentionally. Just as I would try to get better in Spanish or linear algebra, Gabe pushed me to see my social interactions as an area in need of growth and to design ways to be a better friend and to create a microcosm of what I would want my social life to be.

As silly as it sounds, these two words made all the difference. We are inherently social creatures: It’s great to be invited to a party, but in my view, it’s even better to be the host, bringing people together and bringing something new to the world. Thus, before I went abroad, my social life revolved around meals. Every day, I would either bring people over for food, often a home-cooked Indian meal, or mooch off of their Row or dining hall meals. We would cook, chat, clean, learn from each other, laugh and, occasionally, cry, all the while learning more about each other. The food was simple, but the conversations ranged from girls to politics, from human rights to how popcorn could be so delicious. In Room 119 and all over campus, friendships and memories were shared, all over the excuse of needing to eat.

At the end of winter quarter, I decided to host my first events after seeing how easy and simple it would be from other friends, as well as out of a true desire to bring all my various friends together. With just a bit of food, good music and a room, winter quarter nights turned into something completely new. Into Room 119 came my FroSoCoan friend, then a Kappa Sigma friend, then by a soon-to-be Branner RA and lastly followed by an ex-cheerleader turned Bhangra superstar. For me, it was a dream come true, and one of the greatest gifts my friends could have given me. In many ways, Lessons from Lei-Feng and a Farewell Party served as the culmination of a year of social growth. And while I still continue to learn and struggle with not judging others, by being more in touch with my needs and the needs of my friends and being a more independent human, I was able to create a new social scene, however short-lived it was.

All of this is said with me holding no qualms against Greek life. There is nothing holding me back from breaking from all norms and rushing as a junior (or even a senior)! However, just as one comes up with their best ideas for a paper when pushed against a wall, my social wall required me to expand, to connect with people in different ways and to judge far less.

Ultimately, at Stanford, we all have to eat, and we all have a room. Let’s use it and recreate our social scene, bringing people together rather than sorting and separating them and make great memories along the way. I look forward to hearing about the events in the future, and be assured, when I return, I’ll be ready to cook up a meal and have a drink with you.


Contact Kyle D’Souza at kvdsouza ‘at’ stanford.edu

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