When I entered Duke the fall of 2020 in the heart of the pandemic and during a crest of social reckoning, the idea of having the typified college social experience felt rather absurd. And so, for quite a while, I vilified the idea of Greek life and SLGs, of going out, Shooters and Devine’s, drinking, smoking—you get the idea. I largely attribute this mindset to the pandemic era regulations—in which you were forced to choose between breaking the law to socialize in a way congruent to what was acceptable in the past or following the covid rules and resenting those who didn’t for being selfish—but I’m not sure that if the state of the world were different I wouldn’t’ve had comparable views.
I came to college, and formed my opinions on socializing through the contexts of my upbringing and the current public health situation. I wasn’t popular in high school, so partying in college never seemed like an option for me, and I chose to pre-emptively write it off; I was raised religious and in a rather strict family, so to even consider this type of social life was to go against my upbringing. Moreover, the people I first made friends with reinforced my initial opinions, such that I wasn’t thinking deeply about my reasoning.
Without experiencing the types of things I had defined myself in opposition to, it was easy to see myself as a better person than the people who participated in the activities I avoided. While I’m not saying you should have to go to a darty or ride the bull at Shooters before being allowed to have an opinion on going-out culture, it’s important to at least entertain, if not try, the things to which we feel opposed. In fact, that is probably one of the most important parts of going to college. It’s easy to be critical, but it’s hard to be empathetic—to critically think about why you and other people act in different ways. Sometimes to disagree, but to at least understand.
When I think about why I changed my mind, the annoying, cop-out answer would be to say that “I studied abroad in Europe,” but the truth is that I started to interact with people who had different opinions than I did, and I started to see the reasoning behind their choices. Beyond that, going abroad did indeed undercut my main qualms with party culture. Drinking was completely legal there and could be explored in a safer fashion. The pandemic had reached a point where it felt okay to be in large groups maskless and there was plenty of free time when I was only taking one class. Coming back to Durham, I’ve had to reconcile the person I was previously with the experiences I had in my time away.
I’m not in an SLG or a sorority—and I think it’s a bit too late to join at this point—but I do understand the appeal now, even though I still don’t think I would’ve joined one, even if I'd had this mindset at the beginning of college. Last semester, I had discussed with a few friends the idea of going to Shooters just once, strictly ironically; this semester, I’ve gone because I wanted to, and have actually enjoyed it. I’ve come to the opinion that most things socially—obviously done in moderation and safely—can be a healthy break from the rigors and stresses of being a college student. This is almost embarrassingly banal, but it’s taken me a long time to get to this point.
Similarly, looking back at the columns I’ve written over the past year, some I’d still write today, but others could only be written by the person I used to be. I now use Instagram, albeit sparingly; when asked what’s up, I usually complain that I’m too busy and tired or am deep within the internship recruitment grind; I worry that I indeed have overcommitted myself to too many things. In other words, I’m a hypocrite.
I’ve become a person a past version of myself would have resented, and, strangely enough, I’m okay with that. In some instances, my values and opinions have begun to change as I have new experiences, in others, I may have to compromise a little bit in the present to work towards long-term goals. I’m happy with where I am socially, and I no longer begrudge others for trying to find their own balance. It’s okay that I’ve changed my mind about some things, and I hope that this is something that can continue throughout and even beyond my time in college. Especially in an era where the opinions of most everyone are fossilized through our digital footprints, it’s important to promote empathy and critical discourse over polarization and unforgiving discord.
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