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Before leaving for college, after all of the congratulations, everybody made sure to remind me “not to change.” I wasn’t sure what they were referring to at the time, but I figured it was a dig at Harvard’s stereotype for being a pretentious school. Of course, I laughed their advice aside, confident in my ability to stay true to myself. However, I now realize nearing the end of my first semester to what “change” they were referring.
The college party culture is something I am very familiar with, though I don’t really participate in it. Before coming to Harvard, I knew that people in college liked to party, and that I didn’t, but I figured that wouldn’t be a problem—surely there were many kids who had the same mindset as I did. However, it wasn’t until I went back home to visit friends at another school that I realized what the “importance” of partying meant. These were friends who, like me, rarely partied in high school, when we united over our mutual distaste for the party scene. Yet just a month into college, most of our conversations now revolved around their drunken tales from the weekend before. I didn’t disdain them for partying and drinking, but I definitely didn’t have an easy time accepting this because of who it specifically was—the girls who I thought shared the same perspective as I did over partying.
One friend told me about how uncomfortable she had felt drinking for the first time. She felt pressured into taking shots because “that’s what everybody else was doing,” and I was instantly reminded of all the anti-peer-pressure videos I was forced to watch in middle school. She expressed that she didn’t want to be seen as an inexperienced freshman, so she had downed an inappropriate amount of alcohol, not realizing that it was over her limit—because she didn’t even know what her limit was. After registering the look of surprise that I couldn’t withhold, she explained that it’s just what people in college do.
While I understand that it is normal for people to party in college, I had a hard time understanding why she continued to party and drink when she clearly didn’t enjoy it the first time. She tried rationalizing by explaining that if she didn’t go to these parties, she would essentially be excluding herself from the social scene. It was as if partying was the only way to build friendships and those who didn’t partake in it were ostracizing themselves from the college community. I realized that many of my peers felt pressured to party for the same reason. I find this college mentality very disconcerting, because it’s ultimately stating that social ties cannot properly establish themselves unless both parties are intoxicated in a crowded room, where they can’t truly be themselves. To me, the bonds created during parties seem weak and don’t necessarily translate outside of the party.
This is not to say that I think partying is bad. If one parties for the sole reason of having good time, then good for him. However, if one must constantly justify oneself for partying and feels compelled keep partying because of social norms, then it’s more harmful than beneficial. Personally, I found alternatives to enjoy myself on Saturday nights, but I also realized how many people were judging me for not partying instead. One friend asked if I liked to “go out” on weekends. I was thrown off: What kind of a question was that? Of course I went out on weekends! I later realized that our definitions of “going out” were very different. To him, going out narrowly meant going to a party. To me, going out meant enjoying myself outside of my dorm. Partying surely fell into this category but was definitely not the only activity occupying it. “Yeah, I didn’t think so,” he replied after I told him about not going to parties often, as if that simple fact defined who I was. Suddenly, I realized and fully understood that to many people, somebody who doesn’t party is automatically labeled uncool. Not partying carries the implications that one doesn’t know how to have fun and is a stereotypical loner—someone found cooped up in his or her room instead of enjoying him or herself. But that’s far from the truth.
Just because I don’t see myself at a party on a Saturday night doesn’t mean that I’m at a loss for other things to do. It also shouldn’t make me subject to judgment as an outsider. Parties are the most obvious arenas for socializing, but they aren’t the best places to cultivate a friendship. They also don’t constitute the full social scene at a college. Instead, the point of a party is to enjoy casual friendships with minimal effort. Not going to parties doesn’t mean you’re missing out, because I personally feel like I’ve done a fairly good job in making and keeping friends. I just don’t want to be embarrassed to tell people that I don’t like to party with the fear that it will result in them automatically judging me as a straitlaced introvert. I don’t feel the need to change myself to fit into college stereotypes that are simply not true, and I hope others don’t feel forced to do otherwise.
Tasnim Ahmed ’17 is a Crimson blog comper in Massachusetts Hall.
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