Quiet Student Revolution

I have read Susan Cain’s Quiet. I have come to really appreciate my introverted personality, quirks and all. But unfortunately, some people and places do not acknowledge or appreciate those who prefer a little peace and quiet. Temperament levels range on a scale originally designed by Carl Jung for those who get energy from external or internal sources. According to World University Rankings, anywhere from one third to one half of all people are more introverted.

I chose Bishop’s University truly on a whim. Never had I been to Canada or have ever seen the campus until I flew across the border. After a month of living and studying, I can say that I made a great choice, but I do have some setbacks that I didn’t initially consider.

The college life in general is one not built originally for introverted personalities. With college, one assumes it means having an active social life with parties on a regular basis, always being surrounded by others in class and meal times, and encouraging everyone to get involved with student life and organizations on campus.

Education in general is geared toward, as Cain calls it, the “Extrovert Ideal.” An overused term like “active learning” has become a modern mantra. Students must ask questions, express opinions, lead oral presentations and participate enthusiastically in community projects. Passivity, on the other hand, is considered the enemy of learning. Students must be vocal, expressive and assertive.

While I believe there is a time and place for everyone, no matter your individual comfort level, to brave difficult situations to enjoy as many opportunities as possible, colleges should be more accommodating to its more introverted personalities. If students need a push in a certain direction, offer them help and guidance, but do not push somebody who is comfortable as they are.

At Bishop’s, the main dining hall has entirely long communal tables, no actual spots for somebody to just sit by themselves, especially for someone who might use those spare moments to breathe and recharge. The academic buildings offer no real places for students to sit, unless you enjoy sitting in a hallway. The only true places with seating to relax or study are main dining areas and the library, which at this point is a random shack at the end of campus while the original building is remodeled, so not exactly convenient. While I don’t enjoy always having to go back to my room to collect my thoughts, I really have no other options.

Another big aspect I’ve noticed, at least with my roommates, are active social lives, many evenings going out to the student bar for drinks. Trust me, I tried it once with an open mind, and I wanted to leave immediately. Can’t keep up any meaningful conversation, and the music played wasn’t even good. I revert back to my anxieties first starting college as a freshman, feeling like I was “doing college wrong” because I didn’t enjoy partaking in the stereotypical activities, but as I and others keep reminding me, if you’re happy, it doesn’t matter.

People of any temperament can flourish in a wide variety of settings, but something Susan Cain mentions is the importance of having more than just one student body “identity” to strive for, which, being this is a small and tight-knit campus, seems unavoidable. Campuses that offer many different activities allow for more spaces for introverts to feel comfortable and “find their niche.” That’s what I did at my home campus, and while it took me a solid year, I feel like I found that unique place for myself. In a condensed time at this host campus, that is much more difficult to create.

Even classroom settings can make a huge difference. As mentioned by USA Today’s College edition, for colleges with smaller class sizes, participation is required, usually weighing from 10-15% of students’ final grades. Most extroverts basically receive free points for volunteering since their minds work best when speaking to think through ideas.

Introverts tend to form ideas differently because they must listen and process information entirely before speaking. Their lack of immediate participation causes professors and peers to believe they have nothing significant to add or are not paying attention. While situations requiring students to speak up for themselves and work in group settings are important, classes that offer a variety of ways to earn points and complete classwork help give every personality a chance to shine. According to Mary Reda in her book, Between Speaking and Silence: A Study of Quiet Students, and an article from the Chronicle for Higher Education, listening and reflective introspection need to be understood as legitimate forms of class participation. Silence is just as likely as talking to indicate an engagement with the ideas of others.

Something else intimidating is dorm life. Through different camps and my first year of college, I have had enough of that situation, sharing such close quarters and always feeling exposure to another person’s energy, no matter how minuscule, is draining. Last semester I realized how much I thrived in a single room. It gave me the space I craved to escape after a long day of classes and work and allowed me to build my own sanctuary for others to comfortably visit. While there is a wall and two distinct spaces in this dorm room at Bishop’s, I still feel the effects of not fully being able to unwind unless my roommate isn’t here. She’s nice enough, but unless I’m very close with somebody, it can feel like I’m always running on half a tank of energy.

Ultimately, when colleges elevate extrovert traits, the result is that many students’ potential is stifled, and they fail to realize the true value of developing the introverted side of their personalities. There are pros and cons to extroversion and introversion, and we need to celebrate them both. Just as we respect diversity of religion and ethnicity, we must respect diversity in our personalities.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie


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