Upperclassman advises first-years against role-playing


As a member of society, we are constantly playing roles. When you interact with your parents you play the role of their child. When you interact with your professor you play the role of a student. When you interact with your employer you play the role of an employee. And when you interact with your friends you play the role of a friend.

These “roles” are essentially like jobs and we follow a set of values (cultural, social or religious) as an instruction manual to correctly play out these roles. We are programmed to use social standards in order to assess how well we are playing these roles. If you have good grades, you are playing your role as a student correctly.

If you are obedient, understanding and respectful towards your parents, you are playing the role of their child correctly. If you made the cut for a varsity sport, you are playing the role of an athlete correctly.

At this point it is pretty obvious that there is hardly any time for us to take a break from these roles – there are too many! The biggest mistake one can ever make in this sort of social construct is to allow these roles to define who they essentially are.

These are simply things you do and feel in order to play into a social structure. Something that I see every day, especially in college, is how we subconsciously use these roles to determine our friendship groups. If you are a college athlete, chances are your closest friends will be college athletes who play the same sport.

If you are an engineering major, chances are your closest friends will be students pursuing the same or at least similar major. This may not be true for all sports teams and majors, but essentially what I am saying is that because of the way our lives are scheduled, we tend to spend more time with people who are involved in the same or similar things as us.

Because of this, our relationships tend to be with people in their respective roles rather than the people themselves. Building genuine relationships with the people behind these roles and labels is something few people know how to do. One of the things we take pride in is being a small liberal arts school with a closely-knit student body.

You would be surprised by how many “Oh, we’re in the same math class” type relationships you will have at a school as small as Union. No matter how small a graduating class may be, there will always be people you do not know but have an opinion about based off of hearsay, appearance and the social label they carry. People will have an opinion about you too based off of the same reasons.

These types of opinions hold little value, but are extremely influential – you will often find yourself talking and behaving in certain ways just to fit into your role. Every society has a status quo. Your college community is no different. But as you spend time finding your place in the Union community it is important to set aside time for yourself.

I am not talking about meditation, although that is a great way to stabilize your thoughts. I am talking about doing anything that interests you as long as you can do it alone. I have been playing the drums for almost ten years now and even today I make sure to spend at least a half-hour to an hour behind the kit, every couple of days, alone.

During that time, I do not owe anyone anything. There are no obligations and I am not required to behave in a particular way. During that time I cease to stress over my societal roles – I am steady and self-aligned. When you are alone, you stop pretending, or at least become more aware of it.

It is a good time to self-evaluate and think about who you are and what you desire, and then compare that to how you act and how far you have come in achieving all that you had hoped to. It is a good time to think about the desires that are yet to be fulfilled and targets yet to be met, and to think about how to complete these pending tasks.

Taking a break from human interaction is refreshing, productive and essential to maintaining an alignment with one’s self. However, it is extremely difficult to do that in a college campus setting, especially living in a dorm with a roommate, eating at dining halls with your friends, taking a shower with someone in the stall next to you. It is impossible to escape people, they are everywhere.

A lot of us love being around people. We are “social” beings. However, you cannot know someone unless you fully know yourself. It is up to you to isolate yourself every once in a while and build a sound understanding of the person you are and what you stand for because only then will you be able to build genuine relationships with other people.

As an incoming first-year, you have probably been told to get out, get involved, meet new people and make tons of connections. While those are all extremely important for our personal expansion, we must not ignore the mental growth we undergo when we sit alone, with our own thoughts.

Undermining the importance of self-alignment is equivalent to sentencing yourself to a life of surface-level relationships in which you simply act by default. Only when you have built a genuine relationship with your self can you identify your desire and set out to live with purpose. A campus like Union gives you the platform to get involved, make a difference, meet tons of new people and expand as a person.

But the first step to the aforementioned lies in self-alignment. Will you then choose to live deliberately or end up as yet another passenger in time?


  1. Great piece here- and an interesting connection I made in my mind reflecting on my time at Union. You speak about the tendency for athletes to befriend athletes and engineers to befriend engineers etc. While this is absolutely true- there was one institution on campus that totally broke down these “roles” and ended up making me close friends with people across curriculum and hobbies at Union. As a political science major- I graduated with my best and closest friends being Econ majors, engineers, language, and even athletes. This is all because of greek life on campus. Now, before calling me crazy and saying I’m just feeding into another social construct that forces us to adhere to “roles”- hear me out.

    When you join a fraternity or sorority- all of your previous roles are stripped when you are going thru the pledging process. You are not identified by what you have done anymore or your reputation, but by who you are as a person and how you add to the overall group. This process gave me the “isolation” you suggested by removing me from social events for a semester while I was tasked with getting to know those who I was pledging with. This taught me to see people for more than their reputation and to realize what I as an individual have to offer. It also stripped my preconceptions of those I was getting to know- the geology major who I judged to be a fly-by-night hippie turned out to be one of the more level-headed people I’ve met and the spoiled rich-kid econ major turned out to be one of the most generous and loving guys I’ve ever known.

    Once you get through that pledging period- you emerge on the other side with a plethora of brothers and sisters who you may have never had the opportunity to befriend otherwise. And in my experience- the rest of my time at Union I was able to be myself and do what I wanted to do knowing I had completely opened myself up to a group of individuals who support me and now have my back for the rest of my life. People often see greek life as conformity- but I see it as just the opposite. By breaking away from your roles and opening up to your peers who accept you for who you are you gain the freedom to truly be yourself.

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