You would be hard-pressed to find someone who is entirely extroverted or introverted. In fact, Carl Jung argued that such a person would be insane.
We are all a bit of both, some leaning more towards one side of the spectrum. The general consensus is that anywhere from a third to half of the American population is more introverted. However, our society and, as a result, the college environment seems to value the traits of the extrovert over those of the introvert.
Think about it.
In college, you are constantly surrounded by thousands of students your age, alcohol is as abundant as candy on Halloween (with the effects of consuming too much being about the same), and at any moment there are people to see, clubs to join and parties to attend.
Oh yeah, and sometimes people study.
It is a social environment. Students are encouraged to work in groups, put themselves out there, and meet as many people as possible.
All of that is great and necessary for forming meaningful relationships and learning to work with others, but they are not the only important skills to develop. Colleges often neglect to cultivate the introverted side of our personalities.
What results is a loss of introspection and internal analytical thinking that is just as imperative as having the “people skills” of an extrovert.
Susan Cain, author of Quiet, calls this the “’Extrovert Ideal’—the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight” which causes introversion to be considered a “second class trait.”
Take a classroom setting, particularly one at a smaller school with classes of fifteen students or less. In many cases, participation is required, usually weighing from 10-15% of students’ final grades. For clear extroverts, that translates to free points. Their hands can float up at ease even when they do not know the answer. Their brains work in a way that almost requires them to speak to think through ideas.
Introverts tend to form ideas differently. They must listen and process information entirely before speaking. In fact, thinking aloud could inhibit their thought development.
This poses a series of issues for them. By the time their ideas have formed, the discussion has often moved to another topic, and their lack of immediate participation causes professors and peers to believe they have nothing significant to add or are not paying attention.
Of course, not all classes are discussion-based, and discussion-based classes are not always troublesome for introverts. College freshman Becca Schmitt says having to speak out in class is a good challenge for her. “It forces me out of my comfort zone, but there are definitely times when I feel encouraged to be more extroverted,” she says.
“I do feel like teachers really notice and appreciate the students who speak the most,” adds college sophomore Jake Woodham. “I don’t like talking much in class, but I feel like I need to in order for the teacher to know who I am and know I’m interested.”
College professor Daniel Ullucci relates to both sides. As a professor, he knows it is easy to favor the kids who speak out more, but he also remembers his own undergrad days and how little he spoke in class. He says the issue is finding a way to get everyone’s ideas out there. “Giving time for students to think about what they want to say is important as well. I think instructors have to learn not to fear silence,” he said.
By understanding that classrooms are made up of different personalities, professors give quieter students a fair shot at expressing their potential. Plus, encouraging other methods of participation helps students develop equally important introverted qualities of concentration and deep thought. Learning how to be a good listener and work one-on-one or even alone–strong skills of an introvert–are as valuable as being a good speaker and able to work in groups.
But then there is the social scene. There is this idea that the typical college kid loves massive parties, belting “Call Me, Maybe” out car windows, and finding a way to make it logically possible to go out eight days a week.
Introverts can and do enjoy the great social pros of college life, but they find long periods of social interaction draining and need alone time to re-group. However, that sometimes causes them to seem shy, insecure, or antisocial. An introvert can be able to walk into a fraternity party with the confidence of the Old Spice guy, but he simply gets re-energized by having time to himself while extroverts are re-energized by people and social stimulation. Obviously, not all extroverts rage 24/7, but being outgoing is generally considered ideal. This sometimes leads those who are more reserved to feel the need to hide or change themselves.
“I often do wish I were more extroverted,” admits college sophomore Allison Copley. “It seems to be an easier route to making friends and getting others to like you.”
When it comes down to it, there are benefits and pitfalls to both personality types. Anyone would run from a world of only Ke$ha’s just as fast as she would from a world of Kristen Stewarts. But college tends to elevate extrovert traits, and 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.
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