The perks of being a wallflower: in defense of the introvert

Ever since my first day on the College’s campus, I’ve felt deeply, profoundly alone—alienated, even—at Colby.

It shouldn’t be surprising that my short Colby experience has been defined by this sense of alienation. After all, this is the first semester of my first year of college, my high school experience was markedly less privileged than those of many students here, and I’m at the intersection of multiple identities that’d make anyone feel like an outsider on any college campus. However, there’s something else deeply rooted in the culture here—something constantly lurking­­—that troubles me more than anything else: Colby is a hostile environment for introverts.

I am an introvert. This is an aspect of my personality about which I’m unapologetic for. Sometimes, I sit alone in the dining halls by choice; sometimes, I’d rather not greet half-acquaintances when we cross paths on the sidewalk, sometimes, I’d prefer to spend my Friday nights listening to Taylor Swift alone in my room rather than pretend to enjoy myself around others.

These behaviors do not make me “awkward,” “rude,” “withdrawn,” and certainly shouldn’t be used to diagnose me as “depressed.” This is not something I need to reform.

For introverts like myself, being shamed into trying more conventionally ‘extroverted’ behavior—especially when that involves the party scene here—does not make it any more appealing. ‘Extroverted’ behavior does not inherently make someone social, nor does avoiding such behavior preclude someone from being social. In the past few weeks, I’ve made far more friends in conversations with small pockets of fellow self-identified introverts—and others who simply respect our values and enjoy thoughtful conversation—than in any other social contexts. These introvert ‘safe spaces,’ for lack of a better phrase, have been the only places where I’ve felt truly comfortable on campus. Despite what some observers might say, our conversations are not “boring” or “awkward;” in fact, our occasional silences help us to better process others’ thoughts, and recognize when there’s simply nothing left for us to say. It’s unfortunate that at a school like Colby, with students this thoughtful and welcoming, chooses to stigmatize and delegitimize these sorts of social interactions.

The administration at Colby is also complicit in this problem. This has been evident from even my earliest days on campus as a prospective student. It’s understandable why the administration would schedule events like the admitted students’ weekends, orientation, and COOT to be so busy: there’s the desire to keep hundreds of lost, potentially unruly new students from spreading across campus, and also to turn the friend-making process into something more efficient and easily quantifiable than the messy business of making friends in real life. However, in practice, the nature of these functions serves to create a culture that’s immediately uncomfortable for people who prefer more space and internality in their social interactions.

After a while, they seem to devolve into an airless haze of half-remembered names, hometowns, and over-rehearsed ‘fun facts’ that one can’t even begin to process, let alone retain.

For introverts like me, these problems don’t go away after those chaotic first few weeks of orientation; they will define the entire Colby social experience. This becomes especially pronounced on the weekends when, at least amongst most first-years, there seems to be a false binary between the ‘extroverts’ who dominate the party scene and the ‘introverts’ who waste away in their rooms. A large part of this divide stems from a lack of serious counterprogramming to the specific brand of social interaction that dominates the party scene on campus.

While the film screenings, cultural events, nature outings, and other offerings available almost every weekend are steps in the right direction, they don’t receive nearly as much funding and promotion as they deserve, and frankly, still can’t compete with the allure of the party scene on campus—especially amongst the sizable population of introverts who view it primarily as an easy gateway into the drug and alcohol culture on campus. And while the Colby administration can’t completely reverse-engineer social life here, it can certainly place more emphasis on alternatives to the party scene: for example, bringing more interesting speakers to campus, investing more resources into making those cultural events and outings cool. This would improve social life for all introverts at Colby, and especially for those who don’t choose to drink or do drugs. Within the context of party culture on campus, these are the students who are most pressured into overstepping their boundaries in order to “break out of their shells.” Having a safe alternative to such a culture might help these students most of all.

Introversion should be more widely embraced within the Colby community, and the administration should take more efforts to allow for this. This helps not only those who identify as introverts, but also anyone who needs a little personal time sometimes.

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