Introverts can flourish at UMass

By Emily Merlino

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For an introvert, the college experience, and the experience one can have at the University of Massachusetts in particular, can be incredibly difficult and even frustrating. After all, college is an inherently social experience, and at New England’s largest university, where 22-story dorms, crowded electronic dance music concerts and the bustling Berkshire dining commons are a fact of life, extroversion reigns supreme.

Timothy Reilly/ Collegian File Photo

While this abundance of activity can leave introverts feeling lost in the literal crowd, college  allows these introverts to cultivate both their established introversion and their inner extroversion, since few people are 100 percent introverted or extroverted.

Take, for instance, discussion-based classes. While forced participation in front of complete strangers might seem like an introvert’s worst nightmare, these classes actually provide an excellent way to cultivate their best reflections on coursework and to come out of their shells in a relatively safe environment. In these environments, where participation often makes up a sizable portion of a student’s final grade, extroverts often think of speaking up as free points, no matter how unrefined their statements might be.

In “College and the Introvert,” Julia Fawal notes that extroverts’ “hands can float up at ease even when they do not know the answer … introverts tend to form ideas differently.”

For an introvert, the inherent tendency to form a well-formed thought before speaking out may weigh in their favor in such situations. A student that adds perhaps just one thoughtful contribution per class discussion provides the same value as a student that consistently speaks up without the same quality contribution. Discussion classes also encourage students to develop better listening skills, concentration and critical thinking that introverts already possess.

“Giving time for students to think about what they want to say is important as well,” says Rhodes College professor Daniel Ullucci. “I think instructors have to learn not to fear silence.”

Furthermore, discussion-based classes provide introverts with great opportunities to challenge themselves and develop confidence in their public speaking skills. If college is about developing students as human beings and allowing them to learn new things, then being forced out of one’s comfort zone is certainly part of that experience.

Navigating the university’s social scene also develops introverts’ inner extroverted sides while still allowing them to maintain their introverted tendencies. It is a myth that introverts are antisocial, insecure vessels of self-doubt. One can easily be a charismatic introvert – such individuals simply have to allow themselves to recharge alone after dancing all night at a frat party.

In short, an extrovert recharges by being around people and social stimulation, whereas an introvert recharges by having time to themselves. This difference means that introverts can and do enjoy the raging parties and concerts that UMass offers, but they simply have to devote occasional time to themselves.

Although this task might seem nearly impossible to accomplish on the ever-active UMass campus, the university and Amherst itself give introverts a wonderful place to develop their  introverted and extroverted sides. There is never a shortage of places to go, people to see, and things to do, but at the end of the day, there are always places to go (in addition to the dorm room) to recharge alone. The Durfee Conservatory, Jones Library, Amherst Coffee and the abundant hiking trails that surround campus provide a wonderful mixture of social stimulation and private sanctuaries.

The bottom line for introverts at UMass is this: at first glance campus can seem like an unfriendly place for those who prefer small, quiet groups to large, chaotic crowds. But UMass is a great place for introverts to both continue to foster their natural introverted tendencies (and all that is beneficial about them) and to develop equally beneficial extroverted traits that they might have never discovered before.

Emily Merlino is a columnist and can be reached at [email protected]