Students may have seen people shouting in the Dobbs University Center (DUC), having heated arguments inside a quiet building or even farting in the middle of the library. It is that time of year when Introduction to General Sociology (SOC 101) students put on a brave face and attempt to break a social norm in the name of a project.
The project requires students to behave in a weird or wacky way to elicit a spectrum of responses and to write down notes in lapses of free time.
For example, College freshman Dom Refuerzo’s project was singing in public areas, particularly in places where a bystander would least expect it. Armed with a ukelele, willing friends and the courage to withstand some potentially negative sanctions, she made her way to an elevator in her residence hall, where she proceeded to sing a multitude of her favorite songs to anyone lucky enough to hop aboard. After performing there for a few days, Refuerzo proceeded to more communal areas, like the Eagle Convenience Store and CVS Pharmacy in Emory Village.
“This lady sneered at us and told her two kids to hurry up,” Refuerzo said, when asked about any notable responses she garnered while performing.
A far more extreme example of the project was College freshman Ross Basner’s decision to shower with the curtains open to see what type of responses would be elicited. Displaying an unparalleled amount of courage, he proceeded to pretend nothing was strange at all, recording down the numerous different reactions his visible bathing caused. With reactions ranging from people apologizing to others closing the curtain for him, the situations created must have been lip-bitingly awkward for both parties. Rather than the gentle warmth of an unexpected serenade, this norm breach created a far more awkward environment, a testament to the variation in projects that students produced.
According to College freshman Teneke Ryan, there is a private blog with a list of all the projects. The extensive list revealed an even greater variety of projects than those aforementioned, from College senior Nguyet Doan taking items from people’s shopping carts at Walmart to doing the unthinkable to Ryan making small talk with people using urinals in male restrooms.
“When I started to [talk to] them, a lot of them really nervously answered back, nervously finished up and then tried to get out as fast as possible,” Ryan said.
Ryan said that his heart would race whenever he realized he would have to start a conversation. Ryan described the project as one of the scariest things he has ever done.
Visiting Assistant Sociology Professor Sonal Nalkur explained that this social experiment project brought awareness of these norms to daily life.
“We don’t pay attention to cultural behavior,” Nalkur said. “We take a number of social norms for granted.”
According to Nalkur, she starts her students’ semester with some experiential learning to underline the concept of cultural standards in this day and age. Rather than memorizing definitions from a textbook, an on-hands task allows students to address the nuanced rules that govern our communities.
“The response from students is, ‘I understood the definition of norms in class, and I understood what I learned from the readings, but I didn’t really understand what it was until I experienced it myself,’ ” Nalkur said. “This gets them to view their world differently, and I think that’s valuable.”
What can be gleaned from the students’ assortment of peculiar activities is that the way our society functions is far more complex than a few unspoken rules here and there. With this knowledge, the next time you feel tempted to break into some Taylor Swift song in the elevator, perhaps ponder more intently as to why exactly the three strangers around you might feel uncomfortable.