'Cambridge Cliques' are a myth

Image credit: Johannes Hjorth

There is a constant echo which can be heard throughout the busy streets of Cambridge, and it is not the angelic heralding of the college choirs at evensong. It is a much sourer sound — the perpetual whispering of a student body who would ‘love to do this’, would ‘really love to get involved’ but absolutely cannot, because ‘it’s such a clique, they wouldn’t want me’.

People act as if Cambridge is a ‘Age of Empires’ style battleground with the Thesps in one corner, the Journos in another, hosted in the Union Debating Chamber, whilst Blues swing from the ceilings and the drinking societies pass out on the stage. It is as if Cambridge societies have somehow become well fortified armies, suspicious of any new recruits and thus unwilling to accept any newbies. Yet, what these ‘clique shamers’ have come to forget it seems, is that Cambridge societies are just that, societies — with open, largely free membership, and regular recruitment drives. Anyone can, and should get involved.

So why are people so keen to write our societies off as impenetrable, unwelcoming, inhospitable cliques, full of Cambridge Regina George’s? Quite simply because when you look at societies from the outside, you only scrape the surface of them, only know the names of the stars of the show, of the Presidents of the societies and editors in chiefs of the publications — and they all seem to know each other . As a result, it must seem as if the same group of ten people run the entirety of Cambridge. But there’s an entire world beneath that; a whole infrastructure of diverse individuals, from a variety of backgrounds, with a multiplicity of skills.

Cambridge might seem like a stagnant, old, machine managed by the same ancient leadership since the beginning of time — but Cambridge societies are not like that. Rather, Cambridge is a place which is in constant renaissance, people come and go in an instant — their time at the top is fleeting, and thus opportunities are constantly arising to replace the big dogs, but also to become part of the body which makes the societies as lively and vibrant as they are.

The ADC is arguably the most infamous of the ‘Cambridge Cliques’; its hallways are literally filled with the portraits of the those thesps who have ‘made it’. Yet, whilst the stereotype of drama and ‘theatre-folk’ more generally may be one of self-gratification, hierarchy, and cut throat competition — I have found the ADC to be one of the most collaborative and welcoming places in Cambridge. There are few big societies which offer, each and every week, such great opportunities for new members to get involved. Perhaps the clubroom might seem intimidating, or the post show ADC bar overwhelming, but get chatting to people, you’ll soon find them to be — perhaps not normal — but definitely welcoming people.  Equally, you might think that the “student journo” circle is guarded by an impenetrable barracks wall, but if you ever want to write an article about the inaccessibility of journalism — or about anything, for that matter — then you will soon discover how little of a clique it is in reality.

Ultimately, Cambridge is a network, structured by these so-called cliques. But these cliques are part of life: divisions in the Primary School playground become the seating arrangements at lunch in Secondary School, which then become clubs at University, which then become career paths. Our lives are constantly partitioning away from our peers, cliques are constantly becoming more formalised, but it is up to you what ‘clique’ you are a part of.

So perhaps life is full of cliques, but only if you see them as cliques — the moment you stop, and start considering them as a group of people doing something they love, and are interested in, then it’ll be a hell of a lot easier to join in.


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