In middle school and high school, the requirements of being “cool” were defined in relatively blatant terms. Most people had a concrete group of friends that they had been crafting for years—groups that could be described with your typical clique-y generalizations: there were the popular kids, the jocks, the nerds, and so on.
These identities don’t necessarily translate to life in college. Everyone comes from a different background, home, group of friends, and high school experience. This begs the question, then: what does it mean to be “cool” in college and at Boston College in particular?
The notion of a “cool” student at BC is certainly a multifaceted one. What it takes to fit in on campus is interpreted on vastly different levels depending on the individual you ask.
According to Clara Cahill-Farella, LSOE ‘20, “You need to be wealthy and wear expensive brands. You need to be constantly involved in activities. You need to be put together and effortlessly beautiful or really good at sports. You need to be popular and good-looking and fit into all these other crazy molds.”
When it comes to academic endeavors, Anna Ringheiser, MCAS ‘18, explains, “I think that people still see being cool as not being too passionate or into something. For instance, while it’s cool now to have a political opinion, it’s not cool to know the stats on every congressional seat or district.”
Of course, a significant aspect of this perception of “coolness” is the party culture that exists not only on BC’s campus, but also at most colleges. Students are often stuck feeling like they need to follow a predetermined formula on Fridays and Saturdays in order to gain social acceptance.
“I think it’s very obvious, even to incoming freshmen, what you have to act and look like in order to be cool,” says Cahill-Farella. “You have to be a big partier. You have to buy into and be okay with the hookup culture here.”
Though certainly a blanket observation, this feeling is not limited to BC’s freshman class. Matt Sanborn, MCAS ‘17, makes a similar observation: “There does seem to be a certain way one needs to act, an acceptable number of times one needs to party throughout any given week, and a reasonable amount of alcohol to consume to achieve ‘cool’ status.”
At the same time, this perceived party culture doesn’t impress on others the peer pressure to conform. Patrick McGrath, CSOM ‘20, comments, “I like to party, but I know plenty of people who don’t and they seem fine with that, so it’s really up to the person.”
Julia D’Errico, MCAS ‘20, shares this sentiment: “You don’t have to drink to be cool, as long as you can move beyond the awkwardness and have a great time dancing and laughing with friends.”
Even though so many individuals seem to be accepting of others’ choices, one is still left searching for the source of this pressure that so many BC students still experience. Evidence points to a perceived and internalized pressure defined by what students believe others will approve of.
“I think in an ideal world, everyone would live by their own definition of ‘cool’ and express who they are in the way that’s most comfortable for them,” remarks Cahill-Farella. “But at college, especially at a big university like BC, it’s easy to let other people’s definition of what’s cool influence your own.”
She goes on to note that the pressure to fit in as a “typical” BC student can subconsciously affect how we perceive others as well.
“I think we have a predisposed tendency to assume things about people’s characters based on how much they fit this universal BC mold and that often determines how ‘cool’ they are on campus,” she adds.
It holds true that students seem to form their definition of “coolness” based on what they think others accept as the norm, and often they attempt to live up to these standards. But on an individual level, students are still open to others who march to the beat of their own drum. If recognized and addressed, this disparity could inspire progress.
Sanborn summarizes the issue well: “When you start associating yourself with your college friends, a sometimes destructive, groupthink interpretation becomes the norm ... I always find it fascinating that if one takes the time to survey individuals, they’ll realize people find the groupthink interpretation exhausting to maintain but do so in order to fit in with the crowd.”
When students converse more openly about these issues, this uniform notion of the “cool” BC student can be dispelled, relieving some of this pressure to conform. As individuals realize that others will respect them for their own identity and choices, a more open, accepting, and diverse BC community will inevitably result.