How Important Are Societies To University Culture?

It is safe to say that over time, societies have played an integral part in university culture. Developing in some of the earliest universities, the concept of a society has evolved with the changing times. What would have begun as clubs only open to the social elite, societies have expanded to be diverse groups of like-minded individuals, who meet in a more casual fashion.

Currently in the UK, it would be unusual to come across a university which didn’t have a total number of societies in the hundreds. More and more are popping up around the country offering the chance to share specific interests, be it singing, sports, debating or knitting.

In fact, it is easier than ever to start your own, just as long as you can find a small number of people who are willing to join in. Joining societies and having them readily available to students has become tradition within Britain. They form a part of university culture which is highly encouraged, with the Freshers’ Fairs being an anticipated highlight of your Welcome Week.

Societies bring together people who may not have had the chance under different circumstances

Yet, apart from being merely a tradition, they provide a space for students to share already established interests, as well as gaining new ones. Lead completely by students themselves, societies bring together people who may not have had the chance under different circumstances, enabling the opportunity to make unexpected friends.

They are also arguably one of the simplest ways to get yourself out of your flat on a regular basis, knowing you’ll be able to socialise. A new element of their importance is underlined by the role that societies, now more than ever, can play towards improving the mental health of students. Most are currently introducing welfare guidance as a key part of their committee’s responsibility towards their society.

The US appears to have a predominant focus on sports, which rally up immense support from fellow students

While UK universities make available very niche-interest based societies to very broad ones, the US appears to have a predominant focus on sports, which rally up immense support from fellow students. Some US universities have a similar approach to the UK, however others do not seem to consider social groups as significant, with a quite limited number of societies.

Another factor that dominates the social activities within America’s university culture is that of sororities and fraternities, groups that do not typically form in the UK. As stereotypes within the media may show, these groups, which hold influence and tradition, are seemingly more selective than the typical society.

Like in the earliest examples of social groups at universities, there is still the precedence of class involved in most cases, as money can play a big part in your acceptance into the group. The US’ societies arguably do not initially give the impression of being as openly welcoming as that of the UK’s.

Although, this may be a misconception created through the media, as certain universities in America are placing a ban on the formation of sororities and fraternities to seemingly encourage the creation of more inclusive societies in their place.

In both terms of tradition and of social engagement, societies play a big part in the foundations of many students’ university experience; they can become an escape from the stresses of workloads and living away from home.

This being said, however, societies are not everyone’s cup of tea, and some may argue they are not important to university culture at all. The importance of these social groups appears to be relative to each individual, but at surface level they are a key part of the positives for coming to university.

Rowan Cothliff

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