At freshman orientation, students are encouraged to get involved and be part of something they love – sports teams, fraternities, sororities – the possibilities are endless.Students are told that every person can find a place to fit in. But when does the desire to find that place overlap a need for self-expression?
Erica Bensik, a senior English major, said in an effort to belong, some students are giving up the things that set them apart.
Bensik came to TCU with a picture of what college would be like. But after four years, she said TCU isn’t what she expected.
“College is supposed to be a place where you can just be who you are,” she said. “But there is a lot of pressure to fit in at TCU, and I think that students are getting wrapped up in it.”
Jeff Ferrell, a sociology professor, said for some students, a desire to be a trendsetter is overshadowed by a desire to live up to what their peers expect of them.
He said college students, especially at TCU, are all starting to look the same, and he wonders why students aren’t concerned.
“When did being unique become uncool?” he said. “Everyone wants to belong, but if everyone was living up to a certain standard, where would we be?”
Bensik said students buy in to trends in fear of being left out.
“That’s the way it is when you get here, so you have to keep doing it to fit in,” she said. “The fear is that, if you don’t keep up and meet those standards, you’ll just get looked over.”
Dovie Dockery, a senior advertising/public relations major, said some students don’t want to be held to TCU’s standard, but seem to give in anyway.
“Some people hate it, but they will do it because it’s expected of them,” she said.
Dockery said females at TCU are being pressured to act and dress a certain way, and it is keeping them from being themselves.
She said these are the same issues she dealt with in high school, and TCU doesn’t seem to be much different.
“It’s not exactly what I was picturing when I thought about college,” she said. “I was told everyone wore their pajamas to class, but I think this is a school full of homecoming queens.”
Ferrell said this need to fit in is causing students to follow their peers rather than establishing their own styles.
“Students are putting too much faith in consumption for their identity,” he said.
He said it is the trend of this country for young people to rely on what can be bought to make them unique.
“Being unique isn’t something that you can purchase in a Best Buy,” he said. “Individuality has to come from somewhere else.”
Grant Allen, a freshman business major, said orientation gave him insight into the style donned by TCU men..
“At orientation, all the guys dressed like they were 30,” he said. “So I guess I expected the khaki shorts, polo shirts and deck shoes.”
It came as no surprise to Billy Jones, a freshman premajor, either.
“I heard that everyone at TCU dresses really fratty,” he said. “There’s a huge emphasis on Greek life, and I think that has a lot to do with conformity.”
Some fraternities require members to look a certain way, he said.
“When you see the same people all the time, they can judge you easily,” he said. “Basically, you just want to blend in. You don’t want to stand out.”
According to the Princeton Review Web site, the TCU student body is “frat-tastic.”
The Web site’s polls posted one student’s opinion: “Girls wear a polo shirt, designer jeans and the latest trendy handbag. The guys are similar, minus the handbag.”
Jones said since TCU is a relatively small campus, there is more pressure to act and dress a certain way.
Students are competing with each other for the latest and greatest in fashion, technology and status, Bensik said.
“Fitting in and being accepted is what makes people compete,” she said.
Ferrell said one way for students to branch out is to get involved in things they believe in.
“Young people need to find something they have passion for instead of simply following the norm,” Ferrell said.
When students find the thing that gets their blood pumping, they will find that the norm isn’t as attractive as it used to be, he said.
“Many college campuses have a large group of student activists,” he said. “I don’t see that happening enough at TCU.”
If students research sweatshops and begin to realize what effect their consumption has on the world, he said, they may find themselves shopping at thrift stores instead of going to the mall. He said, with other research, instead of driving a mile to campus, students might start riding a bike.
There are many ways students can invest their time and passion, while instilling a sense of individuality and pride in who they are, Ferrell said.
They just have to see what’s going on around them and act on it, he said.