When I took pre-calculus in high school I was overjoyed to get to limits, precisely so I could say, “The limit does not exist!” like Cady from “Mean Girls.” I haven’t taken a math class since high school, so I forget the numeric implications of the phrase, but I think about it often when I think about my peers at Occidental. We go to a good college. We go to a college that values extracurriculars in its application process and enables students to keep up with their hobbies and interests throughout their four years. For students at Occidental, the limit truly does not exist. Yet, we, unintentionally, fail to recognize the intricacies and talents of the people that surround us.
In every classroom, every club, we are surrounded by multidimensional people that work hard, extend themselves and take advantage of all the opportunities they can. And of course, there is no shortage of those who slide by, those who don’t engage with campus activities and those who are counting days until they graduate. There are a little over 2,000 students at Occidental, and therefore a little over 2,000 kinds of Occidental student. We are, in a sense, limitless. We go to class (or don’t), we go to clubs, we go to practice, we make things and we do things, often all at the same time.
When we apply to Occidental, we answer a supplemental question about a personal idiosyncrasy we have. We write about something that makes us different, or rather, makes us ourselves. I think we too often forget that every student around us was asked this, and answered it with enough wit, heart, intelligence, X-factor or black magic to land themselves a spot here. We sometimes forget that every student on this campus has characteristics that make them unique — that there isn’t a such thing as a typical Occidental student. In the words of Cady, the limit (to an Occidental student) does not exist.
Recently, I attended a women’s lacrosse game and earnestly cheered things like, “Go Tigers!” and “Come on, Oxy!” I have some friends on the team and their hard work and dedication made me want to see them in action. So, I went to a game, braving Jack Kemp Stadium for the first time since orientation.
Historically, I have not identified as someone with a lot of school spirit. There isn’t a single Occidental shirt in my closet, nor a Tigers hat. None of my shot glasses have black and orange paw prints on them. I even cut up the free lanyard O-Team gave me to make a macramé project.
At the start of the game, I felt like a caricature of myself. My “I think I’m on Mad Men” outfit, a large coffee, my orange Tate Modern tote bag carrying Patti Smith’s latest book screamed, “I got lost looking for York Boulevard,” not “Io Triumphe!”
But as the game progressed, I stopped feeling insecure about watching a sporting event while not looking like a typical “sporty person.” I saw my friends on the field, strong women that read queer theory and travel and fight for social justice and make art. I thought of who they were when they weren’t playing lacrosse as I watched them shred across the field. And it occurred to me, there is no such thing as a typical “sporty person” at Occidental, not on the field nor in the stands.
Sure, there’s a common trend of speed and strength among student athletes, but the women’s lacrosse team, like Occidental sports teams, like all of Occidental, is made up of complex human beings that transcend the narrow standards of what a stereotypical anything looks like.
Yet, in life, we often feel compelled to understand the people around us in an easily digestible way. With the endless stimuli we perceive in a day, it makes sense we start categorizing things at a young age. But this skill, the ability to label and classify, the capability to find the limits of the world around us, can hurt us when we begin our experience at 1600 Campus Road. Often, and sometimes just by default, we associate our fellow students by the groups and activities they are involved in. Then, we navigate the social scene with these arbitrary groupings in mind. This categorization determines who we’re going to sit with in the Marketplace or what party we’re going to be ultimately disappointed by this weekend.
While categorizing in this way allows us to find friends with similar values, it’s also what leads us to assume things we don’t know about people based on the few things we do know. You’re gay? We assume we know all about you. DWA major? We’re sure we’ve figured you out. In Greek life or a sports team or some other kind of close-knit community? We’d bet all the charges on our student account that we know your type.
We mentally apply limits to our fellow students that simply do not exist. We implement these fixed standards that imply that we are a certain way and therefore can only live a certain way, when in reality, we’re all well-rounded and smart kids who are more than the reputations that form around each of us might lead others to believe.
Watching the lacrosse game made me re-evaluate my understanding of how we perceive each other at Occidental. Here were my friends, people that I know, people that all play the same sport yet are all distinct and idiosyncratic beings with all their own interests and no limits about them. And I, as their friend, as their fan, stood and cheered. Because I can dress like I dress, do the campus activities I do and like sports, too.
Seeing my friends push themselves physically more than I ever comprehended they could, witnessing another layer of my peers being pulled back, I was jolted with how ridiculous the idea of limiting ourselves and each other really is.
Our ability to do one thing or be one way in no way takes away from our potential to excel in activities that seem to be diametrically opposed. We’re all walking anomalies. That’s why we were chosen to be Tigers.
Sure, Occidental is small enough that you can see the same people and do the same things and never question it for four years. Yet, going to a sports game when you haven’t before, sitting at a new lunch table, being disappointed by a different party — doing things out of our comfort zone enables us to see just how multifaceted we, Occidental students, are. The women’s lacrosse game reminded me to stop trying to define my peers in terms of what they do. Rather, I want to start engaging with my peers in terms of who they are, all parts of them, activist, artist, athlete and beyond. Because Cady was right: From “I look like I belong at Cafe De Leche” to “Io Triumphe,” when it comes to Oxy, the limit just does not exist.
Griffin Wynne is a junior religious studies and cognitive science double major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.