Letter to First-Year Men Re: Spring Semester Isolation

Nick Johnson-

To any first years who’ve recently felt isolated:

While reading Kenzie Bell’s ’20 article about Self-Selection, I was drawn back to a few moments from my first year. Sure, the first experience I remembered was being jolted awake to screams on the floor below as girls were whisked away to celebrate their new eating house. But the moment from this period that really stood out even after all this time was sitting in the DCPC student lounge at the piano, staring at the white and black keys. That was the Monday prior to Self-Selection: Bid Day.

Of the twenty-two first year guys on my hall, fifteen of them received a bid from at least one fraternity at Davidson. While I had filled out the form to rush, it was mostly because my hallmates were doing it as well. I had not met anyone who had inspired me to join a fraternity, and that stemmed largely from my reticence toward alcohol growing up a type one diabetic. If I went out, I would stand in corners watching my friends interact with people they had come to admire. The cacophony of music and shouting intimidated me, and I always ended up going back up the hill at midnight or earlier.

The silence of DCPC soothed me at the time, although that silence would grow over the course of that spring. It was a difficult semester for me; I was anxious about maintaining contact with my friends who were going down the hill, to class, and back again. My friends who had chosen not to join a social organization had somehow constructed other social support systems and didn’t sit in silence waiting for their next obligation to come around on the clock.

All throughout that semester, I threw myself at my academics and my extracurricular involvements. I began crafting a CIS major that would morph three times before settling just before the submission deadline the following year. I fell in love with the process of creative writing with Dr. Flanagan. I relied heavily on a cappella as a group setting of social interaction as well as fun. I was at my most active in the Theatre department. I got involved with a literary journal. I consistently attended a religious organization’s services. Anything to fill the silence. All throughout, I met some pretty outstanding figures on campus that semester, whom I have come to consider as integral to my Davidson experience.

Two years later, I have joined an Interfraternity Conference fraternity: the one the majority of my hallmates had joined the previous year. I felt compelled to engage in an environment where the major goal was social interaction because it was what Davidson had made me feel was the healthiest way to break the silence of that spring semester.

My friends in fraternities, sororities, and eating houses had quickly gotten into the habit of relying on the members of their social organizations for support of all kinds, which made me feel like no one relied on me and I had no one to rely upon. While extracurricular activities organized my time and my interactions, many of the people involved in them had social organizations to go to for social support when the extracurricular programming was over. It was in those moments, just as a Hobart Park meeting or a rehearsal was ending, that my solitude emphasized the silence around me. Each person in the space was collecting themselves to go elsewhere, to engage in something else. I knew I had to find somewhere else to go, so I went down the hill my sophomore fall in pursuit of my friends who had already found that “somewhere else.”

Slowly but surely, I began to admire the other folks with whom my friends associated, and my social circle expanded as I transitioned into Greek life. The voices filling the silence became familiar instead of intimidating. The music didn’t matter as much so long as I had people I could talk to, connect with, and admire. I had found somewhere else to go after my extracurriculars, and it turned out that the community welcomed me, even as a sophomore, which is rare but not unheard of, at least for this particular IFC Fraternity.

I haven’t abandoned those passions I developed that first spring; quite the contrary. I now hold leadership positions in many of those spheres because they were integral to my Davidson experience. But I knew that I needed more socializing for the sake of socializing to feel healthy. I have come into contact with plenty of male students who didn’t join a social organization their first spring who suffered from the same silence, one of whom left Davidson because he felt insufficient social support outside the confines of down-the-hill culture.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of others who didn’t feel the same way I did, and I loved hearing them talk about their own experiences to know whether or not I was doing social-organization-less life wrong. But I didn’t come to any conclusion.

I have wondered more than once what would have happened had more social options been available to me. I am consciously trying to make my a cappella group a social support system, so that whether or not its members have a social organization, they have social support available to them—ironically in the DCPC Student Lounge where I took refuge on Bid Day. But that can only do so much. What about FIKA, the blind friendship-date system a few female seniors are implementing? Male self-selection into a male or co-ed eating house? More social organization, like independent events down the hill? Union Board activities that intentionally develop social support networks during and after Self-Selection and Bid Day? Are there other options that haven’t yet arrived in Davidson’s social consciousness? In those cases, I might not be in the same place I am today, but Davidson certainly wouldn’t be the same space, either. Social life might not be dependent on the Patterson Court Council (PCC), or maybe the PCC would consist of a plurality of different kinds of spaces. In whatever way social support manifests, it ought to exist for everyone at such a rigorous and demanding school as Davidson.


Nick J.

Nick Johnson ’19 is a Global Literary Theory major from Baltimore, Maryland. Contact him at nijohnson@davidson.edu.