An article was recently published in the Daily Texan about the failure of the Plan II program as a social organization. The Plan II program means a lot to me, and I do not think that the DT represented it fairly. The point of this article is not to downplay the experiences of those who have not felt a connection with their Plan II colleagues, but to demonstrate how the opportunities Plan II does offer can be used to foster a stronger community (perhaps, if one is willing to take advantage of said opportunities).
The Plan II program is a major designed to offer students a broad, interdisciplinary education with core requirements in philosophy, literature, biology, physics, and more. Plan II fills the gaps in higher education, allowing engineers and pre-med students the opportunity to have more of a liberal arts background and liberals arts students the opportunity to have a more science and mathematics based background. Despite its imperfections, it is academically unique and rigorous. This stems from the fact that it is an academic program and not a social one—as evident from program advertisements and the Plan II website.
The few social promises that the Plan II website makes are not very ambitious and are well within the bounds of what it actually offers. The site describes “a home base” for students which is presumably the office in a literal sense and the major in a metaphorical sense. It does not and cannot promise that the home base is full of ready and eager friends, just people who are in the same classes, doing similar homework, or reading the same books. The Plan II office is a quiet place filled with a full jar of cookies, friendly receptionists, and other students who are just like you. Two semesters ago, my best friend was some random person who asked me to help them put up fliers at the office. The office cannot force other people to befriend you, but it can only provide the opportunity for you to meet them.
Plan II also seeks to provide an opportunity for social growth within the program through the freshman world literature course—one of the most intimate classes at UT. I admit that my class was never very tight-knit. We never got together outside of class as a group, and that is a shame. I’ve heard lots of great stories of classes which hosted wild parties and bonded over the suffering that they endured as a team. When a classmate’s mother passed away, Chris Roper, a current Plan II freshman, ran a 5K with them in her honor. The idea to run the 5K was brought up in the world literature class itself, and many of the students agreed to run together. Roper commented:
This classmate felt comfortable enough to share this information with us one day and mentioned that the 5K was in about a month. I have made so many meaningful relationships with a diverse group of people. Without Plan II, I don’t think I would have had this opportunity.
I wish that I had the same connection with my literature class, but it’s important to remember that the Plan II literature classes and Plan II, in general, are made up of us. If we want a Plan II community that is more socially active and more fertile for friendships, we have to put in the hard work to make it so.
I would like to make a brief digression to talk about depression, a problem which I am personally and excruciatingly familiar with. The article from the Daily Texan mentions the high depression rate found in college freshmen, which is a terrible problem that Plan II is not equipped to handle. Plan II staff are experts in their field, but that field is not mental health. If any student is suffering from mental health issues, they can call the CMHC crisis line at (512) 471-2255 or schedule an appointment with in-house counselors, both options which I have had good experiences with. CMHC is not a perfect system, but those imperfections cannot be held against Plan II.
If you are anything like me, then you suffer from acute anxiety and take 50 milligrams of sertraline (a Zoloft knockoff) to manage it. You probably struggle to remember names, even the names of people who you think are really fun to hang out with. You probably sit in the corner of your classes and do not talk to the people sitting next to you until they talk to you first. You probably force yourself to make eye contact with your classmates, to smile and wave at them even though you have the sneaking suspicion that they loathe you.
But even more importantly than that, if you’re like me you have the potential to make more friends than you can keep track of. It was sad to read about the lack of connections that this incoming freshman class has and I genuinely hope that this does not stay the case. Talk to the other people in Plan II. Ask them what book they’re reading, or what classes they’re in. Join the Broccoli project, even if you’re not an actor, or Apricity even if you’re not a writer. Plan II has a multitude of programs to join and make friends in. And if there isn’t one, feel free to create it. Making friends will be very hard, but I promise you, from someone who truly believed it would never happen to him, it can.