I have a confession to make: I kind of love Fling. I love it with an uncharacteristic abandon. Normally, I lack the social stamina to party hop. I find darties somewhat terrifying. (A party? In the daytime? When everyone can see? You want me to do shots before the eyes of God?) But for this one weekend a year, I make an exception because Fling feels like our own personal holiday weekend — a time when campus sheds its business-casual facade and celebrates celebrating.
Several weeks ago, my fellow columnist Dylan Reim wrote about the feeling of unity that swept across campus during the wave of “snarties” when classes were canceled due to inclement weather. Fling weekend calls to mind the same heady feeling of unity and celebration, and there’s nothing that exemplifies Fling better than my favorite type of Penn themed apparel: the Fling tank.
When I’m at school, I don’t often think about the fact that I’m a Penn student. I’m lucky (or arrogant) enough to be able enough to take this for granted — the breezy way I scan my PennCard and plethora of locked doors open for me, the sense of ownership and belonging I feel when I walk down Locust Walk. I don’t define myself as belonging to Penn because it would feel redundant. I’m a creature of habit, and in the depths of the semester I get as stuck in the Penn bubble as anyone else. I wake up in an apartment full of Penn students, wait in line for coffee with Penn students, sit in lecture with Penn students … you get the picture.
Instead, I’ve spent the majority of my time here trying to find my niche. That’s the conventional wisdom that is foisted on us when we first arrive on campus. It’s even part of this paper’s editorial advice to incoming freshmen. We arrive and immediately set out on the mythical quest to “find our people.”
And most of us do. We siphon ourselves off from the monolithic herd of freshmen, those creatures who travel in pacts during New Student Orientation all shiny and tainted with the air of having never sobbed in a GSR at 3 a.m. We come to define ourselves as members of clubs and athletic teams, then some of us take the letters of Greek organizations, and even later, some of us get tapped by senior societies.
Once we’ve done it, once we’ve made it through the interviews, the first game of the season, the hazing, or the initiation, we fork over cash for merchandise that signifies we’ve found our people. We belong somewhere.
At Penn, group merchandise plays an important part in signifying our social status to others. It’s a type of social semaphore, indicating where we fit in the mosaic of athletic teams, performing arts groups, clubs, and Greek organizations that make up Penn’s social scene.
In January, my fellow columnist Isabella Simonetti wrote about how the prevalence of sorority merchandise drove her decision to rush: “Walking down Locust in a Greek letter-emblazoned sweatshirt makes a bigger statement than any designer label.”
While I don’t agree with the materialistic and exclusionary connotations that come with comparing Greek letters to designer labels, I understand the feeling. I’m a bit of a merch fanatic. I have hats and crewnecks and laptops stickers that point to my participation in Greek life, the performing arts, and academic programs.
I remember being a freshman, anxious and jealous of the people who seemed to announce through their laptops and water bottles and clothes that they knew exactly who they were and where they belonged.
While most merch is designed to highlight the things that make us different from the rest of Penn, the Fling tank unites us as a campus. The Fling tank is a rare nod to campus unity, just as Fling is one of those rare weekends when it feels like all of Penn is doing the same thing.
On a cognitive level, I understand that Fling tanks are silly and seasonally inappropriate. But on an emotional level, I think they’re wonderful. They’re a symbol of the diversity that makes me love Penn.
In all of this “finding our people” and carving out niches for ourselves, I think we forget about Penn as a cohesive whole. I love Penn not because of its administration, its fancy buildings, or its endowment, but because I love its students. I love their passion, their tenacity, their humor, their weirdness. And Fling tanks — with their bad puns and inside jokes — are a better reflection of the Penn that I’ve come to love than any admissions brochure could ever be.
So this weekend, I’ll put on my Fling tank and celebrate Penn. I’ll celebrate the fact that we’ll likely never be at a place that puts this many educational resources and free alcohol at our fingertips again.
Hope to see you there.
REBECCA ALIFIMOFF is a College sophomore from Fort Wayne, Ind. studying history. Her email address is email@example.com.