Changing views on social courses in college

Many a complaint has been made by students about the ‘icebreakers’ often used by professors on the first day of class.

This semi-annual ritual of being forced to define oneself to a strange, new group of peers is something that seems to evoke a universal dread over the class -even if the only things that are disclosed are a person’s name, major and hobbies.

While this specific, anxiety-inducing classroom activity has been often criticized by students, it is one that, ultimately, should have little effect on a student’s overall success in a class.

It is, instead, a different practice that often becomes the true downfall of socially anxious students like me: group assignments.

A glimmer of mischief seems to twinkle in a professor’s eye just before they instruct the class to pair up with the person closest to them, and that is when the whirring starts in my head.

Regardless of whether it’s the first day of class or 10 weeks in, I get the same immediate inability to focus on anything other than the fact that I am going to need to work with someone else and act as sociable as possible.

Why the panic at having to interact with my classmates? It’s simple, trying to be seen as a smart and capable team member on a project while also trying to make small talk with a new person usually does not go well for me.

It is easy to worry about the perceptions of others when in a group work setting, and these worries can often make it hard to focus on the project at hand.

Given that a hefty percentage of points in a class can be attributed to group projects and assignments, the social distractions attached to them can be detrimental to one’s GPA, putting socially anxious, awkward and shy students at a disadvantage.

This is not to say that there should be zero social interaction between students, but that it should be up to each individual how they meet new people rather than being forced together in a random class.

Most universities, including Saginaw Valley State University, have a variety of extracurricular groups that students can become involved in to meet new people and make friends. Class time and specific assignments should not be devoted to this purpose.

It is also understandable that, in certain classes, having to talk to fellow classmates at length for a project is inevitable, like in a communications class for example.

Given there are classes where socializing at length with others is a requirement, other classes should stick to individual work.

Unfortunately, the debate on the importance of small talk and forced socializing does not stop at the college level. Instead, the issue of social expectations seems exacerbated when it comes to joining the workforce.

Most of us have been there; you just walked into work and are bombarded with the ‘polite’ small talk questions of ‘how was your weekend?’ and ‘any plans for vacation?’. For some, these questions may incite a genuine excitement to spill about their lives and plans, but for me it just means I must fake it until I make it through the conversation.

These everyday interactions can seem small and inconsequential for those who are neurotypical and extroverted, but for neurodivergent people and those with a small social battery, every conversation takes an increased effort.

Regardless of whether you enjoy taking every opportunity to get to know your fellow Cardinals or are more like me and prefer to stick to a small flock; we all could go without putting added social expectations on each other.

Making the curriculum more inclusive for everyone and providing options for students with varying social abilities would be a good first step towards this goal.

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