The Senior (?) Bar

The tension between the grades over what the senior bar really means/ represents and what this means about the changing attitudes of the grades.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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By Justine Kang

Beware, O Underclassmen, of the titan—The Senior Bar in all its three-capital-letter glory, looming over the second floor. The fierce eyes of a thousand ravenous seniors stare as anyone passes by, like lions hunting for their prey—at least that is how the legend is supposed to go.

The senior bar and atrium, once exclusive to the seniors, have gone through a complete upheaval. The senior bar, far from solely featuring the eponymous seniors, now is home to such specimens as… sophomores... and juniors… and—brace yourself—freshmen. While once graced exclusively with chic seniority, the senior bar and atrium are now rowdy with juveniles. What could account for this? The after-effects of the pandemic, most likely. Have the high school hierarchies and hazings been forgotten? Swept away on the pandemic breeze? Have seniors really lost their social standing? Has this problem just been blown out of proportion? Or is this just the result of some deeper underlying tension––some subversion of the social order?

One freshman, Fabiha Khan, recounted a fateful interaction between the freshmen and the seniors at the senior bar: “My friends actually sat on the senior bar [...] I was filling out my Boograms and they were sitting there and I said, ‘You know what guys, I’m gonna go outside,’ and then I overheard some seniors talking to them. [They asked them], ‘Are you guys seniors?’ and my friends said no, and they said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know freshmen would be that brave to sit on the senior bar.’” She proceeded to recount her feelings regarding her friends sitting at the bar. “I feel embarrassed for my friends because it’s the senior bar. You shouldn’t be really sitting on it,” she said.

Seniors feel even more passionately about the ancient territorial right. To senior Thomas Yoo, the name “senior bar” still carries meaning and should be respected. “It's unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable. I don’t believe that freshmen should be allowed on the senior bar, mainly because it’s called a ‘senior bar’ for a reason. The freshmen have other places to go. They have the library. They have wherever freshmen go––they can do that,” he said.

However, not every senior feels passionately about staking a claim to the land. “I don’t really care that much,” one anonymous senior said. “And I don't think most of the other seniors really care at all.” Nevertheless, the senior makes clear that non-senior guests of the space must respect the area. “The other grades should be allowed to come here but only if: one, they don’t disrupt the seniors, and two, they’re held to the same standards as us, so, they have to clean up after themselves. And during school hours, I don’t feel like that’s the best place for them to hang out at. They have their own places like the half floor,” the anonymous senior said.

Assistant Principal of the English department Eric Grossman feels wrong about having areas of the school designated for only certain groups of people. “Exclusivity is rarely a good thing. There were incidents in past years where an underclassman who attempted to sit at the bar was caught out by seniors and that feels inappropriate and unkind. Nobody has any claim on any place in this building, teachers included,” he said. He still acknowledges the reason why the areas exist in the first place though: “Students tend to gravitate toward certain areas based on lockers and a million other factors. If there’s a spot that’s traditionally been where more seniors are, okay.”

Sophomore Ivy Huang isn’t fundamentally against other grades being at the senior bar but does feel some apprehension about the mixing of the grades. “I mean, it is the senior bar. If you want to hang out there, sure, but it’s just awkward,” she said.

But if awkwardness, at its core, comes from the feeling of a boundary being crossed, then to senior Sarah Cheyney, the situation of seniors’ (lack of) status is far more dire. “They’re less scared of us,” she lamented. “It’s almost nostalgic for me. When I was a freshman, I was terrified of the seniors. It’s kind of like the circle of life. You get to that position, and you look back at the freshmen that are afraid of you. It’s very strange to me that they're not like that.”

Senior Vicky Lin also shared similar experiences during her younger years at Stuyvesant. “When I was a freshman, I was quite scared to even approach the senior areas, and I often considered it as a way of respecting my upperclassmen. After all, it is their last year of high school, and at the time, I thought that it’ll eventually be our turn to be able to sit in those areas, so it won't hurt to wait,” she wrote in an e-mail interview.

Junior Huzaina Farooq described these shared senior experiences (including the bar) as essential to being an upperclassman, and all the more important this year after COVID-19. “[The seniors] are going to graduate soon, let them have this experience. We’ve already lost a lot of our high school experience to COVID, let them have something to feel normal again,” she said.

This brazen lack of fear and understanding in freshmen probably stems from the year in quarantine. “[With freshmen] coming in just not having had any Stuy experience for the first two grades, not having seen the senior bar being dominated by seniors, it creates a totally different ambiance when they first come in. The precedent is different,” Cheyney articulated.

Remnants of quarantine have not only been left on underclassmen but also on seniors over the true nature of their seniority. Could this be leading seniors to be undermined by lower grades?

To teachers like Grossman, the status of seniors is exceptionally clear. “The seniors this year are true seniors,” he said with assurance. But this sentiment is not mirrored in the eyes of the seniors themselves—or younger grades.

“I don’t feel like a real senior,” Yoo said, describing the strange time-compression of the quarantine. “A lot of the time I just feel like a junior, specifically because the pandemic made my years at Stuy pretty much one year shorter.”

Lin echoed Yoo’s sentiment almost exactly. “I don’t really feel like a senior this year since we left Stuyvesant halfway as sophomores, it’s hard to grasp the fact that we are the highest grade at Stuyvesant now.” However for Lin, to assume there’s a correlation between not feeling like a senior, and how hard learning during quarantine was, is wrong. “The circumstances that we faced during COVID were unique and challenging in its own right, and to discredit our hard work and efforts during remote learning would be unreasonable,” she said.

Students of other grades are of diverging opinions. Seniors? Ha! Mere pansies! Not having been at Stuyvesant for a year and a half, they have not experienced Stuyvesant’s full rigor. “They got sophomore year easier, right?” Huang said. “I mean, it was remote.”

Khan, too, believes the seniors aren’t really ‘true seniors’ because they weren’t physically in the school, but still thinks their age merits respect nonetheless. “They haven’t been in school since their sophomore year. So they haven’t really gone up to senior status, [and] they still haven't been in the school long enough to be a true senior, but they’re still seniors. So they know what power they have in the school and the school hierarchy,” Khan said.

With the seniors not only undermined in their status but also, almost, pitied by lower grades it may be leading to greater discontent beyond chance encounters.“I know a lot of seniors are resentful,” Cheyney warned. “I was just talking to a friend about how she hates that there are freshmen sitting on top of the senior bar. And I think that the underclassmen may be ignorant to the attitudes that upperclassmen have.”

Farooq feels like this ignorance is leading younger grades to follow suit. “We gave respect [to the seniors] when we came. It should just carry on for other grades too. I don’t want freshmen next year to not respect areas or boundaries, because the sophomores are leading by example because the freshmen don’t care [now] either,” she said.

Luckily the merciful nature of seniors seems to remain a constant. Cheyney herself would not safeguard the area with a spear and ax but still has inward frustrations. “I would never shout at a freshman or be angry at them, but I don’t think that it’s appropriate that a time-held tradition is being disrespected like this,” she said.

With regards to why the freshmen are at the senior bar, Yoo expressed understanding of their situation. “I do understand they’re clueless––they have no idea what they’re doing. They want to look for a place where a lot of people are around, and they’re just coming here,” he said.

Is it then an impossible task to balance lax attitudes with growing animosity and a long-held tradition of ruling through undesirably, fear? To Lin, the remedy is to hold authority through mutual respect. “If seniors can also treat their underclassmen with respect, they will receive that same respect back,” she said. “Maybe they’ll even respect the senior-only senior bar.”