Where only first names appear, names have been changed at the request of those interviewed.
“A certain clique will be sitting at one table, and you can’t sit there because it’s as if they think they own it,” Rose ’11 remarked on the SHS cafeteria scene. “Certain groups just take the first table, and it’s like, ‘Maybe I want a window table, too!’” In popular media, American high schools are portrayed as places where a student without a clique is entirely alone. While the scenes of Mean Girls may not play out in the halls of SHS, tightly knit social groups are still abundant. Moreover, certain traditions at SHS, such as chalking and Halloween, highlight the existence of these circles of friends. Although freshman programs work to eliminate strictly structured social groups, cliques are an inevitable part of any social setting, and SHS is no exception.
The absence of a house system at SHS exposes incoming freshmen to hundreds of peers, many of whom were in other houses at SMS. Among the freshman class, some groups of friends shift almost immediately. As Freshman Class President Chris D’Silva observed, “Some friends… go into other groups, and [others] you even become closer to because you went through middle school together.” SHS psychologist Ernie Collabolletta explained that this reshuffling is not simply because of the broader social exposure that SHS offers. “As the kids get older, they get more open to other possibilities and other groups…. People change,” he said.
Tara Kantor ’12 pointed out that high school students are more open to expanding their horizons. “People mature a lot, [so] they are not as cliquey…, [and they also] overlap [with new people] because of sports or extracurricular activities,” said Kantor. She also believes that the Civ-Ed program helps to diminish cliques, notwithstanding that “friends from [SMS tend to] stick together in the high school.”
In the classroom, many friendships seem to blossom spontaneously. The SHS faculty, however, works hard to achieve these interactions. “We have to open ourselves up to being with other people,” said social studies teacher Neil Ginsberg, explaining the outlook of many teachers regarding group work and assigned seating.
Whether or not students establish new relationships in high school, Collabolletta highlights the importance of fostering and maintaining intimate friendships. “Hopefully what you can do in a clique or any kind of group is… connect at a deeper level with someone,” he said. Melissa Fisch ’11 emphasized the advantages of having a close-knit circle of friends as well. “Being in a group of friends definitely makes high school a little bit easier, just because you always have someone to go to, or on the weekends you always have someone to call,” she said.
Although a group of several close friends is not damaging in and of itself, Collabolletta warned that the exclusive nature of cliques can be harmful. “As soon as you have a clique or a group, you have a ‘better than’ somebody else, a ‘more popular than’ somebody else, and there’s always some kind of label put on it,” he said. “It sets up the ‘I–them’ type of thing and then you get into judgments, and that’s not good.”
The group "5-prime" lets its name be seen during senior chalking (photo Hannah DeBear)
Fisch recognized that while some go through high school with a static group of friends, others have a more fluid experience. “I know I’ve had friends in past years or even this year who have been in more than one group or clique, or just kind of found a new group of friends,” she said. Over time, however, social circles may become confining. “Freshman year, you want a group for security,” said Joanna ’11. “By senior year, you’ve been with them for such a long time that you want to find more friends.”
Certain groups of friends have adopted clique names, which, according to Collabolletta, is not inherently bad. “I think it’s cute,” he said, suggesting that a group name can help form an identity without necessarily creating negative relationships with others. Michael ’11, whose group has titled itself, remarked, “The name comes after you become friends with people and you [can] joke around.”
Other groups do not choose a name, but rather have been given one by their peers. “Last year, a lot of people started to call [my friends and me] something that we didn’t like at all,” said Fisch. “We just kind of twisted it to be our own thing and used it to our advantage.… [We decided] to say, ‘You know what? It doesn’t matter. We think it’s funny; we’re going to use it,’ and just to kind of send the message that it didn’t bother us.”
Students point to two school events that can emphasize cliques among the senior class: senior chalking and Halloween. When seniors gather at the beginning of the school year to decorate the paths outside SHS, discrete groups of friends create their own chalk drawings. This year, cliques with names wrote them on the paths.
Some seniors agreed that while senior chalking is a fun rite of passage, it heightens social tensions. “It’s irritating that people close themselves off into groups with events like chalking,” said Paul Pastore ’11. Chalking is, nonetheless, “a senior thing, so it’s something [we can] all do together,” he conceded. Fisch, whose circle of nine friends drew “G-Nine” on the sidewalk, acknowledged, “There are people who don’t exactly feel like they have their go-to group, so they feel a little trapped or left out.”
The group of nine senior girls known as “G-Nine” wrote their name on the flagstones by the Brewster Road entrance (photo courtesy anonymous)
Halloween, like senior chalking, is another event unique to the graduating class that underscores the existence of cliques. Traditionally, only seniors come to school in costume; many groups of friends wear similar or identical costumes. Fisch noted that this activity “encourage[s] separation into groups.” Kantor highlighted the social stigma of not having a group to dress up with for the occasion. “If you don’t have that group [and dress up alone], then you’re kind of looked at as though you don’t have any friends at all,” she said.
Even those whose approach to Halloween is inclusive point out that the event generates social pressure. Regina ’11 noted that she and her close friends invited some individuals who were not already in a group to join theirs. Yet a larger group can also be perceived as having more “drama,” and some believe that its greater visibility leads those outside the group to feel excluded. Group costumes on Halloween represent “cliques at their peak” concluded Alex Altieri ’12.
Kids Will Be Kids
Despite these criticisms, some suggest that activities such as senior chalking and dressing up for Halloween create more of a sense of community than one of alienation. “Chalking was a great experience.… We all just hung out, and everyone was friendly,” commented Michael. “Halloween, I’m sure, will be the same way.” Pastore agreed, stressing, “These activities are really, really fun. We haven’t done Halloween yet, but I think that in past years, Halloween has been a really fun thing for all of the seniors to come together.”
Events like chalking, Halloween, and even pre-prom are senior-oriented activities that encourage groups. Still, there are other situations in which cliques are pervasive. While perhaps not comparable to the rigid cafeteria scene of Mean Girls, some point out that the SHS cafeteria scene enforces social distinctions. “If you’re not in a group, the situation at lunch can be bad,” said Lindsay Rokito ’14. “Sometimes you might not really know where to sit.” Miwa Sakulrat ’13 observed, “More of the ‘popular’ kids sit towards the back, and then as you go up front the groups get smaller and smaller.” Rose, reflecting on the past four years, was surprised that the underclassmen’s assessments were consistent with her own current ones. “You’d think that as you get older… not necessarily that cliques would fade, but that in the lunch room you wouldn’t just have to sit with friends,” she said. Sighing, she added, “It hasn’t changed at all.”
Some believe that SHS cliques, unlike those shown in Mean Girls or other high school staples like The Breakfast Club, do not create a particularly rigid social structure. “Generally, people are supportive of each other,” said Michael. “I don’t think that cliques or names are anything significant at all. It’s just a way for people to have fun.”
Pastore noted that, as many students grow up, their priorities and concerns change, and they obtain a new outlook on cliques. “As you mature, it becomes less important who you’re with or what clique you’re with, [and] more important who your friends are,” he said. As Keshav Garg ’11 concluded, “With my friends, it’s that they’re my best friends, and I can talk to them about anything; they’re there for me.”