The day she moved into her dorm freshman year, Amanda Drinnon felt ready to start the best years of her life. She couldn’t wait to build lasting friendships with the people around her and do typical college things. You know, activities like going out for ice cream at midnight on a weekday or watching too many episodes of This is Us. The only problem? Amanda is an introvert.
Say the word “introvert” and an image of a grumpy, slightly creepy individual sitting huddled in a dark corner surrounded by cats probably springs to mind. But psychologically speaking, an introvert is just someone who feels drained after spending time socializing. They need to recharge by spending time either with a trusted friend or by oneself. By contrast, an extrovert is someone who feels drained after spending time alone and needs socialization to recharge. According to Psychology Today, an estimated 50-74 percent of the population in the U.S. are extroverts. But that still leaves at least 50 percent. So why does college life seem to only cater towards extroverted students?
Amanda’s first days away from home didn’t go very smoothly. She watched with envy as her fellow freshmen met and greeted each other, making her wish she was more outgoing. From her window on the third floor, she waited for her new extroverted college self to burst forth from behind her love of solitude. “I didn’t mind being alone, but I hated feeling alone,” Amanda said, remembering her first days at school.
Two months in, Amanda still only had a few friends. She felt satisfied with a small circle of friends, but every other email she received came from the Associated Student Body inviting her to yet another dance or sports game or mingling event. She didn’t mind refusing to go, but she found that people showed surprise and even concern at her disinterest. “Amanda, are you sure you don’t want to go to the dance? Are you feeling okay?”
It wasn’t much better in her classes, as they required group projects. Amanda even had a class where her grade depended largely upon her participation in discussions. Though she enjoyed many aspects of college, she felt like her success depended on her ability to change an integral part of her personality. In other words, she had to become an extrovert.
People know that being an introvert in college feels about as hard as passing a final when you haven’t studied. Next to nothing about campus life aims to provide for introverted students. With countless group projects and organized group activities, extroverts thrive, but introverts are expected just to survive.
We shouldn’t just ask how they can get through college. Instead, we should ask “How can colleges assure introverts that they can be successful without compromising who they are?” The way people recharge should have nothing to do with how the world treats them, especially in such formative years.
Accepting and encouraging introverted college students starts in the classroom. While constructive criticism and group work can make a good project great, solitude is also an important part of study. We cannot continue to force introverts “out of their shells.” Their quiet thoughtfulness can be invaluable, but it must first be cultivated.
Some of the most successful people in history have been introverts, and there are many traits about introverts that are extremely valuable in the workplace. Rosa Parks, for instance, was an introvert and she was known for her “radical humility” and “quiet fortitude.” Barack Obama is also a known introvert, as is J.K. Rowling, the author of everyone’s favorite series.
Now in her senior year, Amanda has grown into herself more. She’s accepted the part of herself that makes her an introvert. But it took years of feeling underrepresented and misunderstood for her to recognize that introverts deserve more.
“I just want introverts to feel proud of who they are,” Amanda said. “I’m not asking you to shout anything from the rooftops, but you need to start letting people know your worth.” Colleges need to abandon their misconceptions about introverts and start valuing the unique perspectives and abilities they bring to the table. Being an extrovert should never be a prerequisite to graduation. And introverts, it’s time to speak up. You have a lot to offer, and everyone should know about it.