Calvin needs to understand, support introverts


Calvin College does not understand introversion.

As an introvert, I have navigated through Calvin’s extroverted world and often felt left out. My introverted friends have felt the same way. Many people at Calvin mistake a student’s introversion for shyness, presuming that these students need only to participate with others and then they will have fun.

When this plan fails, students and leaders often feel frustrated and label introverts as jerks or say, “some people just don’t want to be involved with the community.” However, this isn’t true. Introverted students want to be involved in the community, just not in the way that Calvin College expects them to.

Calvin’s misunderstanding of introverts begins with Orientation. Orientation at Calvin is dizzying for introverted students. Students are rushed from place to place and activity to activity. Every other day there is another “name game” to play.

All of these meetings with large groups and frivolous talking wear down and turn away introverted students from meeting other students. One friend I talked to felt that there was something wrong with him because he did not feel as active as other students.

The problem goes beyond Orientation; Chaos Day is a nightmare for introverts. The whole day is filled with strangers trying to convince students to yell and cheer for other strangers that they were randomly selected to join. My friends and I dreaded Chaos Day because it was more noise and activity than we felt comfortable participating in.

Floor events, like serenading, are similarly extrovert-centered. Extroverted students, whose boisterous nature crowds out introverts, have fun at these events while introverts suffer inwardly. Introverts feel no need to add to the energy of a place when there are already others soaking up the conversation, and so they stay silent.

This can change if introverts are familiar with the community. If an introvert feels comfortable, he or she will actually talk a lot.

Classes can also be difficult. Introverted students have difficulty speaking up in class. It’s not that we are not paying attention, but we don’t feel the need to speak our minds. Frequently, extroverts dominate the classroom discussion, and introverts feel no need to speak. This can be a problem if participation is a part of the class grade.

I have a few solutions that would help Calvin College include introverts.

One idea would be to move Chaos Day to a later time in the school year. This would give time for students to bond with other students, which would give more motivation for introverted students to join Chaos Day and actually have fun.

For the dorms, student leaders should be encouraged to get to know the people on their floor on an individual basis. Introverts feel more comfortable if you talk with them on their own territory, rather than trying to compete with louder people for a chance to speak.

Also, introverts need some alone time. Resident assistants and student leaders need to recognize that some students need alone time to recuperate from the extroverted world. My own resident assistant, Mark Campbell, was great at creating community because he understood each individual’s level of comfort when it came to activities.

Finally, I think professors can help out by including an email option for participation so that introverted students have a way to share their ideas. I know one introverted friend who has been extremely grateful to professors that provide that option because she feels included in the conversation without having to fight other extroverted students to have her voice be heard.

Some students might argue that these solutions cater to introverts and that introverts need to get used to the real world. However, this argument falls apart rather quickly. Currently, Calvin College caters to extroverts. Almost every student event on campus is tailor-made for extroverts. We could easily change some of their programming and ways of interacting with students to help introverts feel more included.

Introverts also do well in the real world. Recently, a business professor (Dr. Adam Grant of Wharton University) released a study showing that introverted leaders are better leaders than extroverted leaders in business because they allow their workers alone time to be proactive with their ideas.

By being more inclusive of introverts, introverts would feel more comfortable interacting with others. Having this comfortable space allows introverted students a way to practice being extroverted, which would help them beyond their college career.

Calvin College is a diverse community, and introverts are a part of this community. I think we need to take individual and corporate responsibility to make these students feel welcome and included, not through peer pressure or loud events, but through face-to-face communication.

Getting to know people is difficult and requires patience. However, it would be a sin of omission to shrug off our responsibility to communicate with and care for the quieter members of our student body.

We introverts enjoy talking, but we also enjoy our alone time. If Calvin College wants us to be involved, then it has to create spaces where we feel comfortable to do so.

About the Author

Ryan Hagerman

Ryan Hagerman is a Chimes guest writer for the 2012-13 school year.

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