Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17: Ice cream anti-social

Opinions Columnist

Sorry to burst your bubbles, first-years, but the ice cream social that you attended just a few nights ago during orientation? Utterly pointless. How is it that a function designed to plunge you into the social scene at Brown and make you feel less alone manages to achieve neither of these goals? First-years who don’t know a soul are forced to choose possible friends out of hundreds of equals after talking for a lackluster few minutes, while other schools are sending their first-years off on trips where they can bond over a shared experience. The ice cream social is a meaningless and unsuccessful effort to acclimate first-years.

What I found particularly disheartening was that all the Meiklejohns prefaced the evening by saying, “I met my best friends at our freshman ice cream social.” The result? When I walked home that evening last year not remembering anyone in particular that I met, my only thought was that I was screwed. Instead of making me feel like I escaped loneliness by surrounding myself with a plethora of new friends, it made me feel like loneliness punched me in the face because I’d failed the featured social event of orientation.

I’ve never put much thought into the aesthetics-versus-function aspect of social events, but on the night of the ice cream social, I found the ambience working against me. The late hour left all of us 1,500 teenagers in a messy, moonless throng. The sheer darkness of the night put me in a similar darkness — I couldn’t for the life of me make out the faces of the people I was supposedly getting to know. Forget the advantages of judging people by their character and not their appearance; I wouldn’t have been able to recognize a single person the next day even if I could write her biography.

As if making friends with a shadowy face isn’t hard enough, I found it near impossible to distinguish my future best friends when each student was following the same script. Where are you from? What dorm are you living in? What’s your concentration? Once the script runs its course, you move on to the next faceless person.

With the only conceivable common ground in such a massive crowd being that we all were first-years at Brown, it wasn’t exactly easy to find fast friends. We had nothing over which to bond or unite; melting ice cream doesn’t quite kindle the same bond as having your dinner run away.

First-years are encouraged to entertain this expectation that they need to find their friends in one single hour. In the dark. From a broad sea of peers. Not happening.

There are more effective ways of acclimatizing the lonesome, lost first-years. Right now, Brown is trying to squeeze the socializing into one hour-long box — “speed-friending,” as the organizers appropriately call it. Other schools are making the box bigger.

Take Bowdoin College as the other end of the spectrum. Bowdoin first-years spend four days on various bonding-oriented trips; the excursions serve as the common interest over which to unite. While the ice cream social prompts rash judgments, multiple days of team bonding through interactive activities yield an environment where all students can truly display character.

Rather than being forced to give elevator speeches, these first-years can make friends at their leisure in a natural setting. It is important that Brown caters to the widest variety of personalities; though some individuals may thrive in the larger ice cream social setting, others blossom only in smaller groups.

In my Connecticut high school, the first-years took a three-day trip to Boston. Instead of visiting the standard educational this and educational that, we did social, group-bonding activities. Despite our immature complaints that we weren’t with our friends and we didn’t know our group members, we were required to branch out and spend time getting to know new people while performing tasks.

So why can’t we add a day or two into Brown’s orientation where students are split into groups and shipped off for a day of bonding? It would resemble BOLT, the Brown Outdoor Leadership Training program, except it would be for incoming first-years. Students could head to Newport or Boston to spend time isolated with other Brown students they may not have met otherwise. The script-and-move-on spiel would be rightfully replaced with a day of genuinely getting to know a smaller group.

On the way home from a trip during orientation, an incoming first-year would have a smaller base group of friends on which to build. On the way home from the ice cream social, an incoming first-year has a mental word bank of tens of names that barely scratch the surface of an indistinguishable face.


Megan Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17 pretended to be a first-year named Phyllis at the ice cream social and no one has noticed. 

To stay up-to-date, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

  1. sorry loneliness punched u in the face. has anything truly bad ever happened to u? just curious

    • Considering she went to a high school that could afford to send its students on a three day, completely non-educational, “social bonding” trip to Boston, probably not…

      • prejudice:not just for racists says:

        Yes, because people who come from money don’t really have feelings and are immune from bad things happening to them.

        Just ask the Kennedys.

  2. Because the ice-cream social is clearly the only event in all of orientation.

    I agree that the expectation that everyone makes lifelong friends in the one hour social is ridiculous. But it’s hardly the only event.

  3. TheRationale says:

    I for one welcome our new diabetic overlords

Comments are closed. If you have corrections to submit, you can email The Herald at