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Just Say Hello: Politics of Courtesy at a Small Liberal Arts College

I recently came across a Tithead video from 2013 titled “Just Say Hello”. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it features Grinnellians performing elaborate maneuvers to avoid acknowledging acquaintances around campus—despite the fact that the people in question may very well be lab partners, group project members or classmates with whom they interact on a regular basis.

As I watched this overdramatized video, I thought of how closely the skit resembles Grinnell’s hook-up culture.  In the same way that Grinnellians may be awkward out of the classroom with their classmates, many treat their past (or ongoing) hook-ups with an attitude of stubborn avoidance.  The characteristics of dodging eye contact, taking a different route to class, etc. are all ones that were present in the Tithead video and can be applied to many post hook-up scenarios on college campuses, especially at an incredibly small college like Grinnell. 

When I initially watched this video, I wrote it off as a good laugh and an insightful parody of how Grinnellians tend to be dramatic about interacting with people in general.  But as I thought about it more and more, I began to reflect on our campus’ hook-up culture and what it implies about our social norms.  Yes, sometimes the few days or weeks after hooking up with someone can be awkward.  But is that an excuse to ignore them and treat them as if they were non-existent?

Why is that we, as Grinnellians, avoid our past hook-ups with such insistence? There appears to be a prevalent notion that if we say hello and act friendly towards that person, it implies that we want a more serious relationship.  So, in turn, it seems that many Grinnellians cast their humanity to the side and choose to give their previous hook-ups the cold shoulder.

It troubles me that Grinnellians— bright, engaged citizens who claim to champion social justice and equality—nevertheless perpetuate the norm of ignoring those with whom we once were (or still are) incredibly intimate, even if fleetingly so.  So, what is it exactly that we want out of our hook-up experience, if in the end we find ourselves ignoring the person that we shared an intimate experience with? Are we using and abusing? Are we being hypocritical?

After consulting various Grinnellians about this subject, I’ve come to a final conclusion:

Although every hook-up is situational, when you purposefully ignore or avoid past hook-ups, it dehumanizes the other person. By ignoring that person, you make them feel like they mean nothing to you. It effectively reduces them to feeling ashamed and unworthy of the other person’s attention.

What I am trying to communicate is simple: JUST SAY HELLO. That doesn’t mean that you have to go up to them in the dining hall and chat for ten minutes every time you see them there, but acknowledging that you see them and flashing a smile their way has never killed anyone. By perpetuating the act of avoidance post hook-up, we maintain this negative culture on campus that can be incredibly hurtful.

There is no need to avoid our past hook-ups (it is in fact statistically impossible to avoid them on this campus, according to my own statistics) and there is no reason not to display a friendly gesture.  As second semester is underway, let’s change the way that we deal with our hook-up culture and remember that these people are, in fact, people who deserve and demand to be treated with respect and dignity. It will probably be a relief to you both, and will make Grinnell feel more like a campus and less like a minefield.

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