I have a random observation about student life and culture. The last place I taught in the US was a residential college, where so much of student life revolves around dorms and social activities (like fraternities and sororities). Here, very few of my students live in dormitories; most of them live at home with their families and commute. I also feel like extra-curricular activities play a much smaller role here, partly because the college is not residential and partly because of the isolation of the new campus. Most of my students here who commute are not working at outside jobs, so the university remains the center of their social world. So, how is their social world organized if not through dormitories? In part, through their courses and academic work. Their friends are from their classes, and their majors. In my upper level literature courses, the students know each other well and socialize outside of class. They are comfortable talking with each other, and know how to do it with honesty and respect and good humor. There is a down side. Sometimes, especially when I am teaching first-year students, they are so social that it is hard for me to get them to be attentive in class.
I must admit that I like the extent to which intellectual pursuits seem to be the basis for social networks. Of course all of this is really just speculation. Perhaps it is unique to my department? Or maybe it is my attempt to explain some chatty students.