By: Jake Schrier | Opinions  | 

Expanding Socially: A Student Athlete’s Perspective

It is Thursday night at YU. Students crowd into the Rubin lounge for another excellent SOY Chulent Mishmar, a Thursday night event that occurs a few times each semester, generally before an in-Shabbos. People are coming from the beit midrash, the library, the gym, from all over campus to get their hands on some free chulent. Two close friends of mine, teammates on the 2017 Men’s Cross Country team, share a laugh over some chulent, not even realizing they are being photographed. This photo subsequently became the advertising flyer that SOY would send around to attract students to their Chulent Mishmar events. The first team member to notice it immediately sent it to our team WhatsApp group, and we instantly picked up on something humorous. This wasn’t a random photo; this was an attempt at showing some “YU diversity”—stereotypical IBC kid in the v-neck t-shirt shares a laugh with stereotypical YP kid in a button-down shirt with tzitzis out.

One of the most pressing challenges on our campus is how to break down the walls between different sub-categories of the student body and connect to anyone and everyone. How we can expand past the friends we maybe had before college and continue to meet more people and be friendly and inclusive to all.

It is a fairly common occurrence for students to go through their years at YU and make very few new friends. They are comfortable hanging out with their high school crew, grabbing a meal with friends from their yeshiva in Israel perhaps. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against hanging out with old friends. I personally had high school peers and friends from my gap year at YU with me, and I grew much closer to many of them. These are some of my most cherished relationships to this day. But I was also capable of making many new friends along the way. These relationships were also very important to my development and overall well-being at YU. 

A classic example of a new YU friend might be someone in your shiur or morning program classes. Or, perhaps a peer with the same major, so you see each other in a few classes and grow close that way. I have found success in befriending people this way, and I think it is a good avenue to explore if you have not already.

However, there is a different approach I’d like to share.

I had the privilege of serving as a student athlete for four years here at YU. This was a very special part of my unique college experience. I can go on for hours about what I have gained from my time as a Maccabee—I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to those friends who have sat through large segments of that rant—but today I will share just one takeaway, arguably the most significant.

The Men’s Cross Country team happens to be very tight-knit. Excuse the cliché, but it really does feel like a “cross country family” at points. I have made some really special friends through this extracurricular, and some of these individuals I most certainly would not have crossed paths with otherwise at YU. Not only was I privileged to have these friends, I actively brought them into my social circle. I didn’t want “cross country friends”; I wanted “friends.” It’s the same way I didn’t want “high school friends,” “shiur friends,” “yeshiva friends,” etc. I would actively invite friends from different circles to a Shabbos meal, for example. I’m sure many times it just led to two friends of mine awkwardly waving to each other in the library as their brain raced, “how do I know that guy? Oh yeah, we had lunch at Jake’s together a few weeks back.” However, at its best, it led to an old high school friend and senior at YU inviting a new cross country friend, a freshman, to his own shabbos meal. And they even cut out the middle man! (You still owe me an invite, Donny...)

On our team it doesn’t matter what morning program you’re in, whether or not you spent a gap year before college, or what your major is. Of course, these topics have all come up during the many miles we’ve run together, but they’re not essential; they don’t define or determine whether or not we can be friends.

It is for this reason that the friendship featured in the photo above can exist. Unfortunately in YU, it sometimes feels like it can be so rare to have a relationship like this. For our team, it’s a given.

It’s embarrassing that often times at YU—and in life in general, for that matter—I have to explain to a peer how I’m friends with someone. I’ll be at a wedding of a YU friend, for example, and I get seven comments and have to have the same conversation over and over again: “I know I didn’t go to Yeshiva X in Israel, we became friends from shiur/class/YU in general.” Why do I have to explain how I became friends with someone? It is one thing to ask something like “how did you guys cross paths?” But why are people so baffled that new friendships can be made at YU?! I shouldn’t be a hero for becoming friends with the guy I sit next to in class. 

I’m not saying that everyone needs to start running 40 mile weeks with YU students they never knew (although that is a guaranteed recipe for amazing new friendships). To many of you that sounds ludicrous, and it probably is. What I’m saying is this: the same way that the twelve of us built our friendships around our shared passion for Yeshiva Athletics and for running, you can create something similar from your passions and interests. There are many clubs and events on campus that people are very passionate about. I think these sometimes facilitate similar “new” YU friendships to those that I’ve built through the team.

And I think we can up our game. Why don’t we go to one of these events or clubs actively looking to expand our social circles? If you’re too scared to do it alone, go with an old friend and try to expand your circle together. Go with the goal of making a friend or two that night. Worst case scenario, you have another person to wave to on Amsterdam or Lexington Avenue. Best case scenario, you’re able to follow up and actually build a strong relationship with someone new. Maybe one of your old high school buddies will also befriend this person and invite you both over to hang out. Maybe you’ll have another friend to pull that late study night with you, or to grab a bite with you. Let’s create a friendlier culture here, one new friendship at a time.