Temple might tout its diverse student body, but that doesn’t mean Main Campus is immune to cliques.
Wherever you are on Main Campus, you don’t have to look hard to notice divides among members of the student body. These divides, which bear strong resemblances to cliques typical of high school students, often define themselves along racial and ethnic lines. But the existence of these cliques at a university as diverse as Temple is puzzling.
Assistant professor of sociology David Allen suggested that people are compelled by strong societal influences.
“[Cliques] tend to stick out a little bit more where it’s very obvious – to either minorities or majorities on campus – that someone is in the minority and it is a very small minority,” Allen said. “Then there’s more tendency and more proneness to try to stick together.”
Allen said he believes the more expansive the gap between a majority and a minority is, the more likely racial and ethnic cliques are to becoming a prevalent force. This is especially true for freshmen, who often feel out-of-place in their new settings.
But the idea that a clique offers a security blanket to cover up poor nerves, while logical, doesn’t match the realities that some students, such as Lindsay McClane, a sophomore Russian major, perceive.
McClane said she has never felt compelled by external forces to associate exclusively with people of the same race.
“There’s no pressure to hang out with people who are like you,” she said.
If societal pressures are not to blame, then perhaps unconscious preferences are the driving force of Main Campus cliques. Project Implicit, a study by Harvard University, corroborates that conclusion.
Project Implicit consists of tests designed to measure a person’s unconscious preferences to one thing over another. A variety of the tests, known as Implicit Association Tests, are available, but one sticks out. The “Black – White” IAT measures a person’s unconscious preference between white and black people, and of the people who have taken it, 54 percent fall into the “strongly prefer” and “moderately prefer” white-to-black categories.
Assistant professor of psychology Andy Karpinski, an IAT expert, said the results speak more of our culture than anything else.
“What this test is telling us is something about information you’ve been exposed to in your culture, as opposed to individual beliefs,” Karpinski said.
Kaliah Smalls, a junior strategic and organizational communication major, said she thinks there may be something to the unconscious preferences theory.
“It’s sad to say, but a lot of people say they have an open mind and it doesn’t matter what someone looks like or what somebody does or where somebody comes from,” she said. “But in the end, everybody has set preferences.”
While convincing evidence to both explanations exists, so does a much more practical reason.
The student enrollment on Main Campus is more than 29,000, and it is simply impossible for everyone to know and interact with everyone else. People break into groups based on whatever criteria they can find. Sometimes, that means interests like clubs and sports, but other times, it means distinguishing characteristics like race or ethnicity.
“If you were to take out a personal ad, you wouldn’t say I like baseball, I like reading, I like biking – I’m looking for a person who likes none of these. That’s ridiculous. We like people who are similar to us,” Karpinski said.
“I never felt like I was pressured to hang out with a certain group,” Sol Kang, a senior accounting major, added. “And I don’t think it’s that [we have unconscious preferences]. I think it’s that we have more common things, more common backgrounds.”
People want to be around other people similar to them, and to do so, they pursue friendships with people who look like them because they perceive – correctly or not – race as an indicator of similar backgrounds and interests.
Zachary Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.