Why Is The Freshman Class So Cliquey?

On Thursday, September 1st, Lakeside’s new head of school, Dr. Kai Bynum, made a declaration that elicited gasps from the student body: “You are special.” Dr. Bynum’s words reversed a year-long crusade by former head of school Bernie Noe in which he told students, “You are not special… Spend time appreciating others rather than appreciating yourself.”

I interviewed Dr. Bynum to find out why he told the student body it was special, and he said, “People who are here [at Lakeside] are just remarkable… their talents, their interests, their kindness is at a level I haven’t seen at other schools.” He went on to describe Lakesiders’ “ability to get along together” as a “special quality,” saying, “I think that should be applauded and not ashamed of.” 

But is this kindness really the experience of Lakeside freshmen?

According to a recent Tatler poll, over half of students (56%) reported that Lakeside is “more cliquey than [their] old school,” with the freshman class becoming infamous among upperclassmen for being the “most cliquey ever.” One freshman lamented the grade’s lack of inclusivity, writing, “Sometimes I wish I were in another grade just cause ours is so socially messed up.” 

Personally, I’ve found it much easier to make friends outside of Lakeside. I used to tell myself that I was too shy or that I wasn’t “good” at socializing to explain why interactions with classmates outside of my “friend group” felt awkward. But this summer, I realized I have no problems making friends with kids my age at summer camps and other programs.

So what’s going on with the freshman class?

One poll respondent proposed that “COVID made us really cliquey” because social interactions were limited to the small groups that had been created in the few months prior to the pandemic. Students who did not attend the middle school were never “in on” these cliques at all, leading one freshman to remark, “There’s two separate schools: the new freshmen and the middle school freshmen.” Others suggested that the academic competition between Lakesiders has created strange social dynamics: either someone is a friend from one’s exclusive social group or a foe who might get into Harvard. When asked for comments on Lakeside’s social scene, one junior simply wrote, “ i don’t think u wanna hear them.”

Whatever the cause of Lakeside’s fraught social scene, the message that Lakesiders are more kind and inclusive than students from other schools is not helping. There is a clear disconnect between the school’s messaging and the reality of many students.

Luckily, many upperclassmen report that “it gets better.” In the meantime, freshmen, instead of congratulating ourselves on our kindness, let’s actually reach out to each other.