I would be met with a Regina George-worthy stare of disdainEmily Lawson-Todd for Varsity

“You can’t sit with us.” Obviously nobody actually says it in real life. After all, Cambridge is an esteemed University, not a Disney Channel original movie. And drinking society girls are not a trio of queen bees arrayed in bows, frills and bitchy slogan T-shirts - though you may see them sporting the occasional pink cowboy hat. And yet, despite our entrance into adulthood, and freedom from the high school canteen, there is still a feeling that if I were to venture to speak to certain people in my college I would be met with a Regina George-worthy stare of disdain. Think the look you might give the gum you found on the bottom of your shoe.

Coming to Cambridge, we are not granted the same freedom from secondary school cliques as most other uni students. Sure it feels like it for the first few weeks of freshers. But after your first term comes to a close (that magical wonderful first term where all social barriers fly out the window and all seats are free to be sat in), groups begin to form and potential tables become closed off. Living in college, where my year group is the exact same size as in my rather small sixth form, creates a horrifying replica of the high school experience. Everybody vaguely knows everybody (everybody, that is, who regularly attends the bops, bar or buttery) and so social dynamics come under microscopic scrutiny. Under this close observance, it is not enough to simply have friends. Your friends cannot just be a vague and sporadic collection of people that you personally like, as they could be elsewhere. But rather you must carefully curate a contingency of similarly minded people all of whom get along with each other too. For who else will you to go to Saturday morning brunch with? Or organise pres? God forbid you were to attend the bar in a mere pair.

“My propensity to be picked last for PE seems to have cemented my social status for life”

Of course I don’t blame people for developing friend groups - like-minded people will gravitate towards each other for a reason. The difference is, in larger universities without a college system, it is impossible to position every disparate friend group onto a social hierarchy. But, operating on a college level, a group is not just a group. It becomes defined and develops a known identity that sits somewhere on an arbitrary scale of coolness. Thou that is not part of the clique shall not enter. It would be worryingly easy for me to walk an Erasmus student around the brunch buttery and identify each clique like I’m the quirky best friend in every highschool movie ever made. Over there you have your politics hacks - stay clear they might ask you to vote for them in the next election. On that table are your theatre freaks. Don’t let them invite you to their smoker! And finally here are the netball girlies. You do not want to mess with them, I’d say with a warning gaze, unaware that my protagonist will betray me at the film’s halfway mark by wearing fairy wings on a punt whilst she chugs a bottle of Echo Falls. I imagine ‘Push It’ by Salt-N-Pepa would probably play in the background.

I’m not insisting that we all have to be friends, or even that we all get along, hold hands and sing in a circle. At the end of the day, we are only people that happen to be living together after all. But refusing to smile at people you know in college as you pass them on their way to the laundry room, or failing to say “hi” in the cafe queue, twists these friend groups into something more cliquey and frankly rather bitchy. Babes, we’ve known each other for more than two years - the very least you could do is acknowledge my existence. I know I can be a bit socially awkward sometimes but I promise on the whole I’m a pretty normal gal.

“I possess a true BNOC quality that many a copy and paste rugby lad would fail to procure”

When these insecurities about my own ‘popularity’ occur to me, I try to remind myself that we’re all adults now and (thank fuck) the teenage years are behind us. But it’s hard to feel that we’ve all matured beyond secondary school conceptions of popularity when Cambridge is so defined by them. We are a University obsessed with exclusive societies - drinking socs do not even attempt to hide their cliquey-ness: rather, they are defined by it. It’s ridiculous that because of these groups I still correlate teenage assumptions of popularity (as taught by 2000s movies) with the parameters of relevancy. These groups are preserved solely for people skilled in ball catching and liquor holding - two abilities I decisively lack. And so my propensity to be picked last for PE seems to have cemented my social status for life. And you know what, I’m fine with that fact. So why do I feel like I’m still trapped in Year 9? Maybe because these groups are similarly so insistent on their own relevancy, rather embarrassingly self-defining themselves as such on college confession pages whilst I struggle to decipher half their initials. I like to think that between my JCR stints, my slay college fits, and my status as Varsity Editor, I possess a true BNOC quality that many a copy and paste rugby lad would fail to procure. I hate to break it to you mate but being obnoxiously loud doesn’t make you more important than me.


Mountain View

Head to head: how to spend first year

Look, maybe I’m bitter and sad and maybe it’s all in my head. Maybe the shyness and social awkwardness of my early years hasn’t entirely gone away and this is all my own doing. Joining University after lockdown, and possessed by a rather concerning bout of anxiety, I wasn’t the best at making friends. I never have been. Usually, I can sustain about a week of confident and cheery introductions before the facade starts to falter and I become closed in, always seemingly missing my line cue in group conversations. Another unfortunate habit I possess is allowing myself to become trapped in the mould of other people’s perceptions of me. If I have been assigned the character of shy awkward girl, I cannot now escape my role to talk that person I think is really cool. She belongs to another group now anyway. Although I have massively grown in confidence since my fresher-self, now the cliques have been defined I cannot break free of where I’ve been placed.

Luckily, in discovering more friends in the wider University, I have managed to crack this mould in different ways. As I meet more people I find myself wondering whether maybe this cliquey-ness is simply reserved for my college and my year, eternally haunted by who I would be and the friends I would have if I was elsewhere. It’s not that I think the people who fail to acknowledge my existence are actually bad people (I know if I don’t wave and smile at someone it usually comes from a place of awkwardness) but I do think more people at this university need to be careful about containing themselves in these cliques. Or assuming that their group possesses any inherent power and relevancy over others. Maybe you are simply not my people and maybe we wouldn’t get along. But that shouldn’t make me invisible to you.