column Adrian Stymne
Welcome back to a fundamentally changed school! Our student body is now roughly 60% larger and our campus has multiplied in size. As the school grows, cohesion will become more difficult. The human need for smaller communities within a larger setting is something our school is very aware of, with DF groups and residential colleges tailored to be sources of identity and belonging. Extracurricular groups fill a similar role, and since they are voluntary and interest-based, they can do so more powerfully. Students at Yale University, where I studied abroad, know this: in a student body more than ten times the size as ours, it is the social mixers and dinners in extracurricular groups that keep them grounded. In our school, however, I have often felt that student groups focus more on doing than on their social role. Sometimes, members are happy to meet for three hours—but do not “have time” to meet for dinner! This is not an uncommon mindset, but one that needs to change.
As everyone who has been in a student group knows, flakiness is one of the central sources of stress and discontent in a group. To overcome this issue, group members need to be strongly committed and trust that others will do their part. Such trust and commitment is built as much outside of meetings as inside them. If I like and respect my group members on a personal level as well as a professional level, I will make sure I do my part, and vice-versa. This radically improves the performance and decreases the stress level in a group.
Tighter and more committed groups can also serve as sources of identity and pride. At Yale, singers never introduced themselves as “singers”; they were always Whiffenpoofs or Dukesmen or Alley Cats. What was of primary importance to them was not that they sang, but rather the group they sang with. The social setting defined their singing, and in turn defined them. With pride and identity comes an ability to commit and achieve more. A member of the Yale Daily News (infamous for many long nights of work every week) mentioned that to him the newspaper is both a source of identity, a passion, and a close group of friends. He shared that if any of the three aspects had been missing, he could not have carried the workload. Similarly, I believe that if our extra-curricular groups took on a more social role, students would be more willing and able to work without feeling burdened or burnt out.
Time is a scarce resource at this college, and it could be argued that it would be better invested in meetings than in dinners. Yet, from what I’ve seen at Yale, this is not the case. For example, I found that I enjoyed concerts by acapella groups with stronger social cohesion (actively nurtured with dinners and mixers) more than concerts by groups that were more technically advanced. They were more fun to watch, and their sound blended better. This is a lesson that applies not only to singing groups but to all team efforts, be it in sports, event organizing, or dance. Student groups that want to reach new heights should therefore make a commitment to organize (and show up to!) more intragroup social events.
Student groups are the perfect springboard to integrate the ethnically and nationally diverse Yale-NUS College student body further. They can form the basis for friendships spanning different residential colleges, different cultural backgrounds and different personality types. Common passions bring people together. Now, let’s focus as actively on the together as we do on the passion.