Failing to nurture the needs of introverts

Katherine Taylor

My name is Katherine Taylor, and I’m an introvert.

No, I’m not a social misfit. Yes, I still have friends.

Contrary to common misconceptions, introversion doesn’t actually reflect how social or unsocial I am. Introverted-ness describes a personality type that draws energy from alone time and exerts energy around people. And before you discount their prevalence on university campuses, anywhere between 25 percent and just under one-half the population are introverts, according to The Atlantic Magazine.

There are several ways that higher education doesn’t nurture the needs of introverted professors and academics, according to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. But what about the ways that universities unnecessarily penalize introverted students?

Think about your typical walk across campus each day. Undoubtedly, you pass either the West Mall or the courtyard area in front of Gregory Gym, which are the two areas of campus most populated with one of the things I dread most: tabling. Every time I walk through these crowded areas, people yell at me, commanding that I attend events, sign a petition or take a random handout about a cause that I don’t care about. It’s not that I’m afraid of any of these people or that I mean to be rude and stuck up when I ignore them; I just really value alone time. This method of harassment penalizes students who would prefer to not elbow their way through a crowd or talk to a bunch of strangers to find an organization or a cause to join.

What’s even worse than the crowds from the West Mall are the giant rooms stuffed with booths, stodgy strangers in suits, students full of hot air talking about how great they are and companies full of hot air trying to convince you to work for free: yes, I mean career fairs. Not only does a career fair require tons of talking with strangers — and elbowing talkative extroverts in the stomach to make them shut-up — but the consequences of failure are high: potential unemployment. So in one of the most important events in determining college students’ futures, the stakes are firmly stacked in extroverts’ favor. It’s not even the “shyness” factor or the desire to avoid small talk that makes this situation so much harder for introverts; it’s that talking to strangers for long periods of time exhausts introverts in a situation where they need to be at their best.

Class environments themselves can unfairly disadvantage introverts. Ever had a group project? Sure, there are lots of reasons group projects suck: some people work harder than others, coordinating schedules is tough and usually the loudest person ends up getting final say on what happens because everyone else is too lazy to argue. But for introverts especially, these projects are difficult because their best work and thinking happens when they’re alone.

What about classes that grade based on participation? This method especially disadvantages introverts, as we don’t like to blurt out the first thing that comes to our minds and would prefer to have time to think and mull over answers. Punishing students who process and interpret information differently from extroverts is insensitive and unfair. The best thing professors can do is reward all different types of learning styles. For example, they could offer students the option to keep up journals along with in-class participation so both introverts and extroverts would have a chance to do assignments that play to their strengths and weaknesses.

Am I asking for special treatment or for a personality type to be treated as a disorder? No. And I’m tired of hearing that we should get over it and be like everyone else to be successful. Trust me, ask any introvert that’s ever given a presentation or gone to a party, we “fake it” all the time. Instead, I’m pointing out the ways that our University unfairly caters to extroverts and disadvantages introverts. This is important because this means that organizations, career fairs and certain classes aren’t getting the best work from a significant portion of the campus. Imagine how much more diverse and talented the student body would be if we used methods that catered to introverts, as well.

It’s time for extroverted hegemony to end — or at least time for universities to realize the existence of introverts and think about ways to support those students, as well.

Taylor is a Plan II and rhetoric and writing senior