Surviving the U as an Introvert


J Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 5/14/17. Photo by Adam Fondren/Daily Utah Chronicle

By Broderick Sterrett

Calling all introverts. The shy, the reserved, the introspective, the quiet. It’s time we discuss a new challenge facing our social lives (or lack thereof). We are all uncomfortably aware this is an extrovert’s world, and navigating through it can be draining. From attending class to grocery shopping, being around so many people can be exhausting. Group projects are the bane of my existence and self-checkouts are my savior — unless a grocery attendant has been notified. There are few places where an introvert can retreat, and the University of Utah is, unfortunately, not one of them.

I always romanticized university life as being purely academic and above social foibles. Instead, I learned at orientation and a few weeks into the fall semester that college is like grown-up high school. That is not to say the U is an introvert’s nightmare, but navigating the U can be a challenge. I am still navigating my way around, but some advice from one introvert to another can go a long way. Let’s start where most freshmen start: the dorms. Two-thirds of all college housing at the U is occupied by first-year students. If you’re one of those lucky students, there are few things you should know as an introvert.

First, you know those quirky ice breaker games that are supposed to facilitate social community? They’re still around — they’re a resident advisor’s bread and butter. Floor meetings in the dorms will always (without exception) include one to three ice breaker games. The first floor meeting that happens the first weekend you move in will be especially filled with these corny and uncomfortable exercises. There are two ways an introvert can prepare for this. First, don’t go. I encourage you to go for the information and resources the RA will provide, and maybe you will actually click with someone there, but when they say the meeting is “mandatory,” it is really just highly encouraged. You can skip out and not face any real consequences; I would just make sure to talk to the RA later to learn the actual informational portion. The second option is to psych yourself up. For me, I can socialize with others (relatively easier) if given a heads up. Well, here is yours. Put on a good shirt, share some basic facts about yourself and then streamline back to your dorm. You’ve got this.

Second, let’s face it, you probably have a roommate. Some of you will opt for the roommate to be random, and others have done careful in-depth surveying to find the right one. Either option is viable, but it doesn’t change the fact there are more doubles than singles. My advice is to have open communication. You may be paired with a total extrovert who enjoys having friends over and striking random conversations. In cases like these you need to remember two things: the dorm is as much yours as theirs. Wanting a quiet room isn’t infringing on their college experience, even though it feels like we are the odd ones out and our needs come second to the “normal” extroverts. This is not true. Make your stand and explain your boundaries. You have needs and they have needs, which brings us to compromise. If you have a loud and proud extrovert as a roommate, do not expect a tranquil dorm experience. At the same token, don’t let their social needs outweigh yours. Talk to your roommate and explain what you are and aren’t comfortable with, and then listen to what they share. Compromise looks different for everyone. Regardless of how it shakes down, open communication is essential while living in the dorms.

There is one final aspect of dorm living that may not apply to you depending on what dorm you live in: dorm parties. They are real, and they are loud. Now some dorms rarely (if ever) have dorm parties, like Gateway Heights. Other dorms, like Chapel Glen (my home for two semesters), have parties almost every week, but partying plateaus at about once in a few weeks once school becomes more serious. No one is going to force you to attend these parties, but it can get loud fast. You can notify the RA and have them quiet the party or you can find a quiet study space on these nights. The library and PHC Quiet Room have saved me on countless late nights.

The dorms may not be the safe space some of us desperately require to rejuvenate after a long day. The dorms will be the hub of social interaction on campus though, so surviving dorm life (if applicable to you) is more than half the battle. There is one place on campus that introverts should be warned about though, and there is no way around it: the classroom.

For an introvert, the bigger the class the better. In large classes of 40-100+ students, the classes will be mainly lecture based, and few class discussions will take place. You can practically dissolve in anonymity, which can provide a strange relief. However, those courses are mainly introductory general credits, so this strategy may only work for a few classes.

It’s when classes sizes are 30 and under that us introverts start to sweat a little bit. Why? Group projects and discussions. There is no avoiding it. The smaller the class, the more your professors will expect you to learn the names of your peers, get their phone numbers and/or email addresses and work together almost constantly. This isn’t true of all professors, but it’s prevalent.

The best advice I can give you for group discussions and projects is to be prepared. Not many people truly enjoy being called on or placed into group work, some people just handle the situation easier than others. Regardless of how you fall on the introversion spectrum — from complete loner to “doesn’t talk much” — being prepared with all the readings and course materials before class is essential. Being called on to work or discuss with others is inevitable, but not having anything to contribute adds an unnecessary awkwardness.

So where are we safe? Where can an introvert escape the expectations of an extroverted society? One answer is the library. There are no shushing librarians who snatch and evict students like in “Monsters University” and other movies, but the library is a generally quiet and respectful space. Some sections of the library are even designated quiet spaces, so enjoy the sweet silence.

While classes are in session, the hallways are actually a great place for some quiet and relaxation too. My favorite buildings are the Film and Media Arts building, BU Classrooms and Fine Arts West building. You will never be totally alone, but finding a nice place to just sit down and recollect for half an hour can be rejuvenating.

Another good place to unwind is somewhere with friends. We all know introverts aren’t necessarily anti-social. I have friends who I would hang out with almost every night towards the end of spring semester. I did so not because I felt obligated to or I was drawn out with the promise of food. I just felt comfortable with them whether we were watching a scary movie, playing League of Legends or finishing last minute assignments. Do yourself a favor and find some friends who don’t expect you to talk constantly and party all night.

That’s it. That’s the advice I have right now. From one introvert to another, I wish you a great semester at the U. Extroverts may rule college campus life, but don’t let that deter you from taking advantage of the college experience. Learn, live and grow.

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