The bell rings at 11:35 signalling lunch. Students file out of classes like dull eyed herds of cattle, some making their way towards the library, some to the art room, others to the nearest table in the foyer. However, a large portion go to the obvious location; the cafeteria.
We all know that movies about high school are a little cliche when describing social dynamics and hierarchy. Contrary to popular opinion, High School Musical is in actuality nothing like high school in real life (who knew). Although we don’t have “nerds” and “jocks” and weirdly melodramatic blonde theatre kids who break into song, the age old social hierarchy prevails.
According to Stanford researcher Daniel McFarland, “schools that offer students more choice, more ways to complete requirements, a bigger range of potential friends, and more freedom to select seats in a classroom, are more likely to be rank-ordered and cliquish”. Considering we have about 180 courses, alternate programs such as Quest and Global Online Academy and hundreds of students per grade, SAS fits this description quite well. Not to mention, most of us haven’t had assigned seating since tenth grade.
The basic hierarchy begins with grade level. Seniors naturally are on top and with this comes a great deal of power. This power is precarious because it can be used to set a positive example, however it can also be exploited. Whilst the former sounds idealistic, the latter is quite common phenomenon. Current senior Flavia Vacirca recalls an encounter displaying this phenomenon in action.
It was the first day of Junior year at SAS and Flavia and her group of friends spotted the territory they wish to claim. Not sensing any danger the group took their seats. All was well until suddenly, a girl in a crisp red sweater approached them. Her blonde ponytail swung obnoxiously as she strode toward them, heavily mascaraed eyes narrowed with entitlement. She stopped in front of the wide eyed, barely sixteen year olds and informed them that they were technically in the “Senior Section” and needed to leave.
Now these young juniors were indeed outraged, but none of them wished to provoke the Senior. Flavia decided to stand her ground and refused to leave. She informed the girl that they could sit wherever they wanted, exasperated at the juvenility of this seating chart they were forced to conform to. Clumpy-mascara girl left in a huff, therefore claiming the table for the juniors for the remainder of the year.
Flavia was lucky enough to emerge from junior year victorious. However, not everyone is so lucky. Here is what happened a year later to the same group of friends, now seniors.
Flavia and her friends scuttled into the cafeteria at lunch like a huddle of scarlet crabs. They had already laid claim to their territory, so one could only imagine their surprise when they found *gasp* juniors sitting on “their” table. They didn’t hesitate in their attack, filled with false sympathy saying “so sorry but this is the Senior Section.” Begrudgingly, the juniors left, as the friends rejoiced and chuckled, well aware of their obvious hypocrisy.
Although it seems unfair, it is evident that this situation is indeed the survival of the fittest. There are divisions in power and those who have more power thrive in this environment while those who don’t are squashed like mosquitos. But divisions in power run deeper than grade level, with various cliques and friend groups forming a unique social hierarchy.
There is a reason the loudest, most confident group of Senior Boys occupy the exact same coveted space in the cafeteria year after year. The Senior Boys Table is the one area every nervous, scrawny freshman dreads walking by. An area that oozes heterosexual male energy and despite women being in close proximity to this area, the tables themselves are often completely devoid of female presence. The patriarchy evidently prevails in the school cafeteria (something I challenge female students to subvert).
Underneath the cacophony of the Senior Boys Table are the voices of the other students that have decided to place themselves on the charming blue plastic, fluorescent light reflecting cafeteria tables. Here, the various friend groups can be found. Although cliques common phenomenon, as displayed in Mean Girls and High School Musical, SAS has been found to be notoriously “cliquey.” New students often struggle assimilating into the study body, as old students tend to be very set in stone with the people they associate with.
One student, wishing to remain nameless, recalls the cafeteria being an extremely hostile place when she was a new student in high school. She said “it was really hard to find a place to sit, I felt like no one wanted me there. All the large groups had taken the tables so it’s not like I could’ve sat there alone or with one other person”.
The “cliquey” nature of our school could potentially be attributed to the schools heavy focus on academics. Daniel McFarland claimed that schools that are academically focused tend to have students form friendships “based on shared school activities and similar intellectual interests.” While this is not a concrete rule, it is not uncommon to see several red varsity bags in a clump on the floor, belonging to Athletes, or the Girls Who Dance sitting together, or the Techies hanging out on weekends.
But while our caf might seem like a hostile place at times where movie cliches come to life, there are so many wonderful things done with this space. It’s not uncommon to see students moving tables to include others, or friends surprising each other on their birthdays, happy couples promposing or people going to sit with others who are sitting alone, or even students singing along to terrible music—out of tune, and with different timings—but together.