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The allure of social exclusivity

emerging world order

Jesus had his disciples, Taylor Swift has her “squad” and powerful white men have their Bohemian Grove buddies. Throughout history and to this day, individuals have been drawn to the idea of an inner circle that binds the select few together and, most importantly, sets them apart from others.

United in shared political ambitions, interest in community-building, desires for sisterhood and/or by a shared socio-economic class, these communities have manifested on college campuses since as early as 1776 with the creation of Phi Beta Kappa.

The madness of rush season alone begs the question, where does the desire for inclusion come from? For some, the allure of these organizations is crucial, but for others, the sincerity of social groups proves to be the most alluring.

The need to belong may best be discerned from the evolutionary perspective of psychology. Individuals coming together to hunt, delegate labor and share the burden of necessities like shelter and food helped generate an acknowledgment in the value of safety in numbers.

In a contemporary social context, these examples may seem outdated; however, the potency of language stressing affiliation indicates the still vigorous presence of community longing. Of course, modern-day exclusion was hardly an issue before society at large, and specifically businesses, began “leveraging the allure of exclusivity” to propel their various networks.

At Duke, it is arguably misguided to assume that Selective Living Groups and Greek life are the sole modern incarnations of social exclusivity on campus. However, there is much to be learned about how we choose to identify, and the post-rush climate is an appropriate time to reflect. As with all groups, there are positives and negative aspects, and often times the “objectivity” of an outside perspective is lost due to prior prejudices and personal experiences. It is the intersection of these overlapping communities that can lead to trouble.

A recent study found that students performed better academically when sharing a classroom environment with students who had been protected from negative stereotypes. Stereotypes on racial groups are just as prevalent with regards to social organizations, and the consequences of such stereotypes can easily turn disastrous when hazing exploits a young person’s need of belonging.

With respect to belonging in a purely academic environment, two researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, graduate student Joseph Powers and psychology Professor Geoffrey Cohen, write, “changed individuals [who were protected from stereotype threat] can improve their social environments, and such improvements can benefit others regardless of whether they participated in [a stereotype threat] intervention.”

If, just as this study purports, tier-rankings and negative stereotypes were taken out of the equation, the entire Duke community may greatly benefit. Young minds in particular have a lot to gain from this perspective. As the demographic most vulnerable to low self-esteem and issues pertaining to social exclusion, college-aged individuals must reflect on the systems that divide them and strive to build camaraderie that transcends all else.

The modern-day negative connotation of “exclusivity”—a great source of polarized opinions of social groups—can be traced to France. In the 1970s, the incipient crisis fostered interest in social citizenship. For then Secretary of State for Social Action René Lenoir, the “outcasts” were “population groups that were unable to find a place in the salary nexus and whose rights to social citizenship were thus limited or, at least, not recognized.” This idea spread like wild fire to the European Union (and eventually other Western nations) where anti-poverty programs began forming. Later neo-liberal ideologies and culture accelerated this shift.

Subsequent social and economic transformations exposed “the role of cultural and symbolic processes as drivers of exclusion,” claims the WHO Social Exclusion Knowledge Network. One infamous organization that was able to utilize these cultural and symbolic processes was the Ku Klux Klan. Capitalizing on certain people’s eagerness to pass judgment, blame others and feel safe in homogenous spaces, the 1915 feature “Birth of a Nation” paints blacks with a potently oppressive (need I say racist) brush that creates a horrifically appealing “enduring aesthetic.” The heinous allure of the Klan attests to the caution that must be taken with regards to today’s growing exclusive groups. Needless to say, social exclusion is a powerful and potentially dangerous force to be reckoned with. Though the Ku Klux Klan is an extreme example, the vulnerabilities they exploit indicate the need for public self-awareness with respect to how individuals identify and associate.

It is easy to sacrifice your identify to belong, but it is imperative that we defy norms to fight these behaviors. All communities, from Greek life to friend groups formed in the classroom, must steer away from harmful language and instead strive to foster “active [community] building and nurturing.”

I believe that it is not projecting strength that demonstrates greatness. Rather, true strength is the power to acknowledge weaknesses and counter vulnerabilities with inclusive, though partisan, visions of the world. Eliminating social exclusivity is a responsibility we all share the burden of; a Duke where diversity means more than a statistic serves only to enrich us all.

In a world with evolving labels and social constructs, it is important to distinguish true connection, and I urge us all to challenge and be conscious of our social statuses. At the end of the day, we are all exclusive to our race, gender, economic status and more. Our interests distinguish us, but they also unite us with even greater networks beyond our isolated views of the world. I will spare the debate on the merits of which groups are rightfully exclusive to the critics and instead choose to appreciate the overwhelming, unique, overlapping communities that work to better our inclusive (though exclusive) Duke.

Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity freshman. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.

Sabriyya Pate

Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity junior. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.


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