Creation of “Elites” raises questions about social structure

Recent posts on a website identifying a social system that divided the freshman class into tiers became a “sudden and widespread phenomenon” that raised questions and concerns among the school community, according to Dean of Students Scott Butchart.

A freshman developed the concept through observations of his classmates. On ask.fm, a website that allows users to ask and respond to anonymous questions, he outlined his beliefs.

According the freshman’s ask.fm posts, society is divided into three tiers: the “Elites,” the “Tier Twos” and the “Omega Threes.” He wrote that the “Elites” represent the most exclusive group: they are popular, wealthy and attractive. The “Tier Twos” consist of a multitude of many different groups, connected by mutual friendships and equal treatment. Finally, the “Omega Threes” include the remaining kids who maintain close personal relationships but rarely socialize outside of a small group.

“These friend groups all existed, and these social hierarchies exist,” the freshman said. “There are certain friend groups and certain levels in society that people standardize and stereotype. I just gave it a name.”

It remains unclear how these online tier descriptions became labels for specific people, but another freshman said that there was no definitive list of people labeled by tier. There was already a “group of kids that all hang out with each other exclusively” and people began calling them “Elites” as a joke, he said.

At a certain point, what some believed to be a joke became more serious to the administration. According to both Butchart and the freshman who developed the concept, there were reports of a freshman being asked to fill out an application in order to sit with certain people at lunch, and upperclassmen were heard using the terms from the social concept to demean and antagonize the freshmen.

Administration began receiving concerns on Nov. 7 from students who felt unhappy with the recent events and from teachers who had heard classroom conversations about the “Elites.” The administration worried that labeling social groups would rigidify them, conflicting with the school’s values, Butchart said.

“We emphasize that we are a school where we don’t want to have social stratification, where everyone is of equal value,” Butchart said. “We don’t appreciate anybody even implying that certain people are in any way better or less good socially [than others].”

The complaints about tier-based labels and interactions led to an investigation by the administration about social stratification among the freshmen. Butchart said they were looking for patterns and commonalities among student opinions.

“We make an effort to understand all the levels of the situation,” Butchart said. “If one child feels one way, we then go on to the next child and see if he or she feels the same way or the opposite way.”

Butchart said the administration determined that there was no hazing or bullying in this situation because the events were seemingly isolated and not “widespread, repeated or intentional.” Still, he said, the class division was concerning to them.

The freshman who developed the concept said he neither intended to deepen the divides in his grade, nor did he foresee the social repercussions. He said that his grade became too obsessed with popularity, establishing rigid boundaries between social groups and classes. The best way to solve this issue, he said, was to make students aware of it.

“I wasn’t trying to cause trouble,” he said. “These are the problems, and [they] need to be fixed.”

Freshman Molly Sacks said that there are different groups of friends, some placed above others, and that the use of the “Elites” label legitimized these groups.

“The reason that there is a bit of a social hierarchy is that people classify other people using words such as ‘Elites’ or ‘Tier Twos’,” Sacks said. “If people stopped recognizing different groups, they wouldn’t exist.”

Freshman Kira Shannon also acknowledged that there is a social hierarchy, “but it’s more casual than people not in our grade think it is. Especially being a freshman, people have been more welcoming in general than in elementary school,” she said.

The Sagamore contacted seven of the freshmen whom others said were “Elites.” None of them agreed to an interview.

Butchart acknowledged that the concept developer’s actions have had a “big impact” but Butchart is optimistic that they will not cause future problems for the freshman class.

“The administration was on it really fast and worked really quickly to diminish those interactions,” Butchart said. “As we have talked with kids more and more, people who were originally upset are having no future experiences.”

Pearl Choi and Aria Wong can be contacted at [email protected]