Cafeteria cliques mostly about comfort
February 28, 2014
“Now where you sit in the cafeteria is crucial because you got everybody there. You got your freshmen, ROTC guys, preps, JV jocks, Asian nerds, cool Asians, varsity jocks, unfriendly black hotties, girls who eat their feelings, girls who don’t eat anything, desperate wannabes, burnouts, sexually active band geeks, the greatest people you will ever meet, and the worst. Beware of The Plastics.”
Monmouth College isn’t exactly North Shore High School, but there are some similarities. Even freshmen are aware of the divisions of social cliques in our cafeteria. So while Janis Ian may be warning new-girl Cady Heron about the risks one takes when finding a seat in the cafeteria from the 2004 comedy-hit “Mean Girls,” the idea may not be too far off. Monmouth has a basic layout that reflects North Shore, except we have the frat guys, International students, theater kids, table top gamers, sorority girls…the list goes on and on. But when you walk in the cafeteria, you don’t just take any old seat. You sit where you belong. The days of high school cliques unfortunately aren’t over for students here.
Finding your Niche
Senior Adelaide Columnas has spent the last four years comfortably fitting in with multiple groups around campus. “I feel like I’m a floater [within social cliques],” Columnas said. She’s spent her time in the cafeteria moving from the designated Sig Ep tables to the random tables between the theater kids and the international students. “The cafeteria can be intimidating when you’re a freshman. That’s when I freaked out, but when you get to know more people, you get comfortable.”
Columnas has no problem fitting into many groups on campus, so perhaps that’s why she’s comfortable moving around from meal to meal, but not everyone is as comfortable moving around as much.
Sophomore Alex Hernandez-Sotelo may claim that he has a high comfort level in the cafeteria, but it helps that since the beginning of this freshman year, he’s been accepted into two highly exclusive organizations.
“I split my sitting between Phi Delt and aquatics athletics mostly,” Hernandez-Sotelo said. “Normally we use the same unofficial assigned seats concept that are applied in classrooms. Basically, once everyone has adjusted to seats within the first two weeks of class, people will not change seats the entire semester.”
Sotelo also admits that people “conform to the cliques very quickly in college,” making it hard for outsiders to fit in during meal times.
“I have felt uncomfortable sitting in a different area in the cafeteria,” Sotelo said, “because as funny as it may seem, it just does not feel the same. The most important thing about having to sit in a different area is to have good friends around you.”
Senior Marshante Mitchell could care less about the social norms the cafeteria tries to impose on her. “To me a seat is a seat,” Mitchell said, “so if I want to eat food, then I’m going to sit wherever there is a seat available.”
Mitchell agrees there are very defined seating sections in the cafeteria, but she doesn’t let those sections bother her. Perhaps it helps that she doesn’t belong to any major organizations on campus, and she prefers to eat only with her roommate.
But for others, she has noticed this: “I guess it’s all about where you’re comfortable in the cafeteria and where your friends sit.”
Defining the Segregation
To any student here, the segregation in the Monmouth cafeteria is just as obvious as Janis and Damian make it seem at North Shore. There’s a clear divide to where certain students sit, but students often wonder why we divide ourselves and how we divide ourselves. Is it by race? By involvement?
Senior track star Raven Robinson has noticed a racial divide in the cafeteria.
“I feel we do divide ourselves based on race, but it is a lot better now that it has been in the past,” Robinson said. “I remember freshmen and sophomore [years] walking into the café and seeing all the black people on the right and white people in the middle. It doesn’t feel that way anymore.”
Robinson also knows that race isn’t the only factor. Agreeing with many other students, finding a seat for dinner is all about our comfort levels.
“People go where they are comfortable. People sit with people they know and can have a 25 minute conversation with. We naturally divide ourselves…because most just aren’t going purposely going into the café to develop new relationships,” she said.
Mitchell has a different perspective on the “racial divide” in the cafeteria.
“There is no divide between races,” she said, “at least I don’t see it.”
Going Against Social Norms
Comfort is a factor for many when finding a seat. “The cafeteria has always been a place of nervous energy,” said freshman Kayla Beadles, “like, ‘who will I sit with?’ ‘Will they let me sit with them?’”
Some groups don’t seem to perpetuate integration, an idea freshmen similar to Beadles often worry about, as Zeta Beta Tau member Zac Brand interprets it, “ZBT and Phi Delt sit at opposite ends of the upper level, which shows to everybody, ‘I am a ZBT, I am not one of those Phi Delts.’”
As it turns out, hardly any students are willing to go against the unofficial seating norms of the cafeteria. Columnas admitted that once she and a friend sat at the designated Phi Delta Theta table for breakfast only to be given angry looks by the members who normally sit there.
“We sat there just as a joke,” she said. “And they were angry. They even sat on the ground floor by their table and just were not happy.”
It just seems ridiculous to them, but almost every student agrees there is at least one area in the cafeteria where they would never be caught sitting. For some students, they don’t feel like they’d mix with the athletes on the main floor, for a majority of students, sitting by the table top gaming table is taboo.
For freshman Cruz Nunez, the idea of “taboo seating,” is for the people who “are not open minded.”
“People should definitely become more integrated,” Nunez said.