High School Halls: Clubs and Cliques

Welcome back to Deep-Fried Friday and my High School Halls series. This fall as teenagers head back to school, we’re taking a look at high school then and now.

One of the things that has stayed consistent across the years are clubs and cliques. Teens are all about figuring out how they stand out from others and where they belong, and clubs and cliques help to answer that question. While we all claim to hate the parsing of students into groups, just about everyone does it in high school. Those groups can be more inclusive or exclusive depending on the people in them, and groups can be mean to others or simply keep to themselves. But regardless, high schoolers in part identify themselves as people based on who their people are.

That Was Then

The reason my generation adored The Breakfast Club (1985) is that we related to it so well–five stereotypes (jock, beauty, brain, rebel, and recluse) who represent the high school cliques and have difficulty crossing the invisible social barriers. Of course, not every high school had same cliques.

In my high school in Corpus Christi, Texas, we had the jocks, the preppies, the brainiacs, the rednecks, and the surfers. That doesn’t encompass everyone, nor are these strict lines. Some people were braniac rednecks or preppy jocks. But there were clear distinctions in dress, mannerisms, and priorities that distinguished a group.

Headline from My 1986 Yearbook

Jocks of course were in sports clubs. Preppies ran Student Council and were often in choir (we had an amazing choir), yearbook club, and school spirit organizations. Brainiacs were often found in band, although we had our share of surfers there too. Surfers were more likely, however, to be found anywhere but school. The rednecks? Well, let’s just say that my school’s FFA and FHA (Future Farmers/Homemakers of America) clubs were so large that classes let out for three days for students to participate in our local livestock show and rodeo.

Where did I fit in? I got along with everyone, so far as I could tell. However, my friends were typically culled from Honors classes and band. So yeah, call me geek if you wish.

This Is Now

Looking at the high school in my district, there are 38 clubs listed–more options than I recall having in high school. Some clubs I recognized, such as the Drama Club, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), the National Honor Society (NHS), the Spanish Club, and Student Council.

But today’s teens also have the options of Anime Club, Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), Peer Assistance and Leadership (PALS), Technology Students Association (TSA), and both the Young Democrats and Young Republicans. Moreover, there are clubs for activities such as Books, Creative Writing, Photography, Recycling, Scrapbooking, and Video Games.

As I read through the list, I wondered what kind of students are attracted to these various clubs. What personalities are drawn to these groups? Do these clubs determine cliques in some way?

Or are the cliques pretty much the same in any generation — ranging from the popular to the midpointers to the outcasts? I hope not. I pray that greater options means that teens can find places of belonging and opportunities for friendship.

But I know these distinctions still exist. Cliques still thrive in today’s high school. There are still teen films and shows with cliques, like Mean Girls (2004) and Glee. Teens still identify others based on monikers such as “jocks” and “geeks.” A few others exist, of course. Hunting for a list of current cliques, I came across this example: Beauty Queens and Kings, Flirts, Dramatics, Jocks, Teacher’s Pets (aka suck-ups), Emos, Health Nuts, Nerds, Perfectionists, and Gossips. (For us older folks, “emos” are the emotional types; think modern-bay Beatnik.)

Do clubs and cliques hurt or help the average teen? I suspect the answer lies in how they exist. Quoting a teen, “Cliques arise out of the need or want to be accepted and make friends with people who have similar interests. It is when cliques are exclusive and hurtful that they become a bad thing” (Joan Hedrick, junior at Weaver Academy).

Clubs and cliques can help teens self-identify as long as they are inclusive, not exclusive; promote support not hierarchy in schools; and allow individuality rather than insist on complete conformity. When the bullying starts, of course, it’s no longer a positive thing. And all too often, cliques draw uncrossable lines between themselves and others and prejudge others based on their identification with a group.

One of my favorite classic rock groups, Rush, wrote a song about the dangers of dividing ourselves into cliques. From Subdivisions comes the line, “Conform or be cast out.”

What do you think? Are clubs and cliques good or bad for teens? What clubs or cliques did you belong to in high school? Did they help or hurt you in developing your identity?

Other sources: Centre Daily Times; Teens and Twenties.com

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17 thoughts on “High School Halls: Clubs and Cliques

  1. Like you, my high school had eclectic mix of clubs and cliques, though, surprisingly, the cliques were not all that strong. People blurred those lines everywhere. Back then, I think the closest thing I came to any clique was that I was a choir girl.

    As for clubs? I think they were a good thing. It helped create and define social consciousness. We had a recycling club which was very popular with the save the earth types. I went to one meeting and decided to leave that work to my friends. SADD had a big following with hundreds of members. FHA put on our annual fashion show. And jewelry club was also huge. Between that club and drama, there were plenty of outlets for our creative types.

    1. I love that people blurred the lines! My son was telling me recently that some kids are “floaters”–fitting into several groups–which I think is great.

      I was also a choir girl! Our choir, however, was comprised of a cross-section of the school itself–a very diverse group.

      What a lot of choices now with those clubs! Thanks for sharing.

  2. I was one of the kids who, going through junior high, didn’t really fit into any clique, and as a result was a castout. Late in seventh grade the school counselor decided to force all the kids like me into our own group, with mixed results. For the most part, we stuck together the rest of junior high and high school, but just trying to mesh together a group of people who don’t have friends doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll all get along either.

    Despite the less than ideal experience I dealt with in school, I absolutely believe that clubs and cliques are essential to the high school experience. I don’t think the way some cliques look down on others is acceptable, but these years are the formative years where kids learn where they fit in life, and what they are good at. Without the ability to experiment with cliques, kids won’t truly learn about themselves the way they should.

    1. I tend to agree with you, Mike. It’s okay to form groups of friends based on similarities, as long as they don’t become a hierarchy of power.

      (I have wondered if more writers are former geeks, free spirits, and loners.)

  3. My high school was small–only forty something in my graduating class. But everyone still ended up “sorted” in some way. I guess I was in the studious group? Probably, I was in clubs like ecology and senior liturgy committee. Ha ha.
    Love this series Julie! Hope you got my response to your email. 🙂

    1. You had an ecology club in a class of 40? Wow. The senior liturgy committee, of course, reveals a lot about your high school. 😉 We could have hung out together in the studious group.

      Thanks, Coleen! (Yes, got the response. Didn’t get time to follow-up yesterday! Will today.)

  4. I was in so many clubs, I don’t know how I got any homework done. Drum & Bugle Corps, student council, NHS, and French club were the ones that took most of my time. I was definitely a studious geek with all honors classes, too (we didn’t have AP classes or I would have taken those). I had a great mix of friends, too. I loved high school. 🙂

  5. Whether good or bad there will always be clicks in high school. I was a “dip” and then there were the “boss” girls. I went to an all-girls high school where we had to wear uniforms and special shoes, so it had nothing to do with how we dressed or how much make-up we wore because you couldn’t do those things anyway. There were those interested in school government or sports and such but they were still the “dips”. So as I recall those were the two clicks. There was no animosity or hatred or bullying. It was what it was.
    My hgih-school daughter says she’s a “nerd” and her friends are nerds. They’re interested in student council and drama club and get good grades. They don’t hate the “cool” people. They just don’t “hang” with them.

  6. Like you, we had the FFA/FHA kids. We also had the jocks, the rich/preppy kids (who were usually involved in student council and cheerleading), the stoners, the nerds, the choir/drama kids, and everybody else. It is interesting to note that the surplus student population (everybody else) separated themselves even further by economic status, race, and just small cliques of friends.

    I remember making friends across groups in classes. For instance, one of the preppy boys was my pal in History class. He wouldn’t touch me with a ten-foot pole outside that class, but we became very good “during class” friends. In science class, I was very good friends with an FHA girl. She didn’t hang out with my group in the lunch yard, but we chatted and exchanged notes during science class.

    I honestly don’t remember any clubs. I was not one of the kids who would have joined, so it’s possible we had them and I just didn’t know about it.

    I think cliques are a good preview of how life is going to be when you grow up. Even in our small group of writers, there are many people I just love but know we’d have little in common outside the writing. The people with whom I’d go to Cancún are pretty much the same type of people I hung out with in high school.

  7. I was an “edger” if I may coin a new word. I was almost with the brainiacs – #38 out of some 460. I was almost a jock – sat the bench in football and played # 7 or so on a four-man gold team. I was almost a leader – homeroom rep on the student council, but never held a school-wide office. Seems I was always on the outer edge of some group or another.

  8. I don’t think it’s a black and white argument. Clubs can be great things, full of like minded people, new opportunities, an alternative for many students. But if it is a club based upon click factors, than it can do more harm than good. Like your mean girls example. I don’t know how you’d ever not have clicks though, sadly. Best thing you can do is create dialogue and give students opportunities to learn and try new things and be open minded.

  9. HS brings back some bad memories for me and a lot of it had to do with clicks. I walked away from my group of friends 1/2 way through junior year, I’ll just say they weren’t treating me the best. Turned out to be the smartest thing I ever did. I started hanging with my old friend from catechism, she was a jock. So there I was, the dancer, friends with all the jocks. They were and still are some of my best friends. Can you say, don’t judge a book by its cover. Bad and good memories,a actually.

  10. I just rewatched The Breakfast Club last week, and I still love that movie. The best thing about it is that even though it was made before I was born, I can still relate to it and it still makes sense to me. There might be different names for the different cliques now, but they’re essentially unchanged.

    I really like the line about how cliques aren’t a bad thing unless they’re exclusive and mean towards others. I think that’s completely true.

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