I can’t tell you in which peer group I’d fit best because I’m a social chameleon and am comfortable in most; I will instead describe my own social situation and the various cliques I drift in and out of.
My high school’s student body is from a part of town that is much more diverse than the rest of the city, and the city as a whole is more diverse than most of the state. The location of my school, only a few blocks from the University of Oregon, is greatly responsible for the social atmosphere. Whereas the other high schools in town draw mainly from middle-class white suburban families, mine sits in the division between the poor west university neighborhood and the affluent east university one. East university is hilly and forested with quiet residential streets and peaceful, large houses. A few blocks west, using the university as the divider, the houses become small and seedy. On the west side of my school there are many dirty apartments; crime is high and social status is low.
The result is the presence of two very distinct social scenes in the school itself. What is ironic although not crucial to this essay is that the school, a squat, gray-stained concrete sprawl, is divided right through the middle, just as its surrounding neighborhood is. The west wing ends in a gym, a symbol of lower-class recreation, and low aspiration, while the east wing holds the auditorium, the stronghold of sophistication, highbrow musical and theatrical achievement. On the east side are artsy wall murals, on the west side only graffiti.
The west parking lot holds mostly dirty pickup trucks, low-rider gangster cars and dilapidated, inherited little Hondas. The east lot is the home of numerous Mercedes and Chevy Suburbans, the gas-guzzlers and the late-models. The A.P. classes are strongly rooted in the east end; the remedial ones are clustered around the west athletic facilities. I burden you with this description in order to display the split, both social and geographic, that characterizes my academic life.
My classes are almost entirely on the east end of school; I’m attracted to them in a polar fashion as if I were a positively charged little scholastic particle, happily magnetized to the center of learning. However, despite the fact that I am fully integrated and comfortable in the intellectual east-end society, the stereotypical education robot is something I am not. My primary social scene is a contrast to the nerd-set.
Understand that I’m a snowboarder and that the Oregon snowboard culture is not some obscure athletic fringe group; on the contrary, it is quite defined, almost established in the mainstream. It is complete with its own dialect, style and customs. The rest of the snowboarders in school are undeniably members of the west halls and their houses are on the wrong side of the university.
I spend my lunches with my fellow nerds. We go to coffee shops and delis. I’m accepted as one of them. My larger-than-normal pants and similar statements of snow-style are recognized as superficial. However, I spend my weekends with the other crew. We go to parties and up to the mountain. We share the same discoloration of our faces, tan and leathery on the cheeks and forehead, pale around the eyes. Our faces bear the scars of wearing snowboarding goggles too often in the bright sun, and are proof of our membership in the snow posse, as indelible as the ornate tattoos that show gang alliances. Our tans demand respect from the kids in the west halls, for they are our social credentials in that end of the school, equivalent to standing on the varsity football team. Once associated with grungy skateboarders, the snowboard culture has found its own niche, just as surfing did before it. We now show much more similarity to jocks than to skater punks.
When I’m with my classmates, I’m one of them-a cultivated, upper-class young man. I’m invited to their houses and speak to their parents on a polite first name basis. When I hang out with boarders and jocks, I’m invited to their refuges and speak the rapidly shifting socialect. Very few of the students in my school drift socially as I do. As a result of the recent American infatuation with the alternative sub-culture, my classmates give me respect for embodying an unconventional trend while preserving my proper social standing. In the same sense, my clan from the wrong end of the school respects me for remaining faithful to our culture while succeeding academically; in their eyes I have found a way to get out of the social hole without selling out.
I’m perfectly comfortable with the fact that I don’t have one single social identity. I think that if I only felt comfortable among kids from a certain end of the school, my life would be less interesting.