I know I’m not the only one. Expert plan-canceller. Master of disappearing for days in your room, emerging only to grab the next Netflix DVD. Have often been accused of sporting a “bitchy resting face” because you’re far less aware of that than your own thoughts. Your name has never been used in a sentence with adjectives like “adventurous,” “strong willed” or “social.” And the idea of small talk with the opposite sex? You’ll take 100 cats and a doublewide trailer, please. Me too, fellow introverts, me too.
Described like this, it’s a challenge to grasp the hostile environment that has formed for introverts in what author Susan McCain calls the “Extrovert Ideal.” Its problems manifested themselves to me in my freshman year. Fortunately I’ve adjusted well enough to school socially (even though icebreaker games were, and still are, the bane of my existence), but even if introverted college students are able to flourish in social settings on campus, they will certainly encounter more obstacles in the classroom. This becomes particularly troublesome in the area of participation credit. While I, by some miracle, have managed to get full credit in most of my classes, there are many more who cannot quite work up the courage to speak and lose points for their apparent disinterest. The extrovert ideal tells us that silence in the classroom is a sign of not understanding, regardless of what ends up on papers or tests.
If the fact that we are an overwhelming minority in college isn’t bad enough, there are also next to no resources available on how to function as an introvert in an extroverted society. What we’re offered is the exact thing we don’t need: a plethora of personal blogs with names like “Loner Wolf” and “Introvert Zone.” These are written in somebody’s mom’s basement and advise one of two things: grow a beard and live in a cave or simply pretend to be an extrovert with the promise of a doctor spouse and a vacation home in Tahiti at the finish line.
What we do need is for our institutions to be on our side. This means both staff and students having the ability to recognize introversion in themselves and others. In the obligatory wave of placement tests and strengths quizzes, why not require freshmen to take Carl Jung’s personality test? It gives participants four letters that describe their personalities, the first of which is either I(ntrovert) or E(xtrovert). I’ve found this far more helpful than being reminded that I’m bad at math and Spanish.
If colleges would do this, then they’d have a solid platform on which to base many social and academic decisions for incoming freshmen. For example, knowing a student’s type would be especially helpful when considering who to place them with as a roommate.
Those in charge of the freshman experience could also change the way they determine “adjustment” to college life. Being told they must attend a certain number of events and talk to five new people at each one is stressful to an introvert, regardless of whether they enjoy the school or not.
Before the writers of “Loner Wolf” come crawling from their basements in the hope of becoming a reclusive super race, let me clarify what I’m asking. I don’t want a pass that gets me out of small talk or for my school to ditch discussion classes in favor of lectures (if I wanted that I wouldn’t be an English major). What I want is much bigger than that: for colleges to convey to students that it’s okay to be an introvert by creating extrovert ideal-free environments.
Doesn’t this soft-spoken minority deserve as much attention as others for whose rights colleges are fighting? Though we’d never say so, we think we do.
Hannah Redder is a junior English and journalism major from Mitchell, S.D.