By Emma Moore
If you were to ask anyone who knows me on this campus to describe my personality, one term would come to their mind: extrovert. It’s a word that encompasses a wide range of descriptors, most of which are associated with loud, “extra” individuals.
The labels of extrovert and introvert divide Cornell into two main categories of people. Even beyond Cornell’s campus, these perceived stereotypes infiltrate day-to-day life for many individuals; these trends at Cornell are simply part of a much larger phenomenon. Introverts are often written off for their quietness, while extroverts are judged for being “too much.” Realistically, however, nobody can be truly confined to one small box or a simple binary of introvert or extrovert in which their identity can fit, and there is always more to an individual than a label or any one thing. Introversion and extroversion exist on a scale for each person, and the scale moves up and down for everyone, depending on factors such as setting and mood.
But not every selective admissions process or student organization at Cornell sees it this way. Instead of considering their complexities, individuals are categorized and judged based on their surfaces. Coming to college in and of itself is a challenge, with the new environment, strangers, and difficult coursework. There’s pressure to make new friends, something that isn’t easy for many people. With all of this in mind, it becomes quite clear that the college transition tends to favor the extroverted—those who aren’t as afraid to put themselves out there and to jump into the college experience headfirst. Here at Cornell, extroverts are given an advantage in certain areas of college life, which is something I have experienced firsthand.
For me, being an extrovert has become central to my identity, but it wasn’t always this way. In high school, I was self-conscious, stressed out, and anxious in any social interaction I had. I felt like everyone at my school was judging me, so I refused to be myself for fear of being taunted or bullied. I self-identified as an introvert or borderline ambivert—a 50/50 split of introversion and extroversion—and wasn’t about to break out of my shell into full-fledged extroversion. I figured if I kept to myself, high school would go by faster and I could escape the confines of my small private school. But the summer before I came to college, I discovered my suppressed extroversion while working as a camp counselor. I didn’t care about being judged by the six, seven, or eight year olds I was surrounding myself with, and found that tucked away within me was a girl who was funny, confident, and bold. I had discovered more of a balance between the person I had been in high school, and the person I wanted to be in college. Extroversion became an aspect of my identity that I decided to embrace.
Once on campus, I was ready to leave behind my San Diegan roots and fully immerse myself in the East Coast college experience. I went to practically every orientation program, actually talked to the quarter-carders on Ho Plaza, and embraced my newfound extroversion. I thrived during Orientation week, where every single freshman is put into an orientation group that requires them not only to meet and engage with other students, but to participate in icebreakers, games that are designed to coax students “out of their shell” and make them more comfortable. While my personality flourished with these activities, I could also see how they were causing discomfort for some of the more introverted students, forcing them to be the extroverts our campus seems to want them to be. However, it encouraged me to seek out other extroverts on campus because I connected with them on a certain level, and I even applied for the most outgoing, social, and perhaps loudest group on campus: Visitor Relations, better known as the Tour Guides. My acceptance to this job was perhaps one of the first moments I realized I had an advantage in some ways on Cornell’s campus compared to some of my more demure classmates. In order even to consider applying for the job, I had to know that I loved talking and interacting with people, and to be hired I had to actually be good at it.
There are also countless other jobs across campus that recruit from a more outgoing crowd—reference or help desks, athletic centers, tutoring jobs, and the Cornell Annual Funds calling program all require you to participate in upbeat social interactions on a daily basis. Cornell is unequally geared toward students who are more comfortable putting themselves into more social settings, interacting with others, and taking initiative socially to gain academic or career-oriented success—whether it be joining an on-campus organization or asking a professor for help. With 14,000 undergraduate students and 6,000 graduate students, our large university makes it even easier for less outgoing students to feel lost in the crowd. In order to find your home on campus, more often than not, you have to take matters into your own hands which requires at least a little confidence and extroversion at the start.
With a campus as seemingly extrovert-centric as Cornell, the benefits of being an introvert are often hidden in the shadows. But those who self-identify as introverts are just as valuable on our campus as extroverts, and they have their own unique advantages. Someone with more introverted tendencies may spend more time listening and absorbing content and information in classes and their environment, which could not only enrich their academic experiences but their friendships as well. Since introverts don’t always need to be the loudest voice in the crowd, they can take a step back and take notice of smaller details and analyze situations that may assist them later on. There are many introverted individuals who put themselves out there, attend parties, and join organizations, just as there are extroverts who would rather stay in some nights than socialize. When it comes down to it, there is almost always an overlap within oneself of extroversion and introversion.
As someone who has identified as both an introvert and extrovert, I can understand how both types of students might feel on Cornell’s campus. My social outlook has been greatly transformed by this dual-perspective and has shaped how I view my role as someone who identifies as more extroverted at Cornell. My high school experience was clouded by overbearing, loud students who I felt ignored my presence and wanted to exclude me from their groups because of my different, then demure, personality. Having been the quieter student, I don’t want my own newfound extroversion ever to cause another student to feel less-than or unworthy, as if their voice matters less in a conversation simply because it is quieter.
I think it’s important for our campus to emphasize that Cornell is a community where all individuals can be who they want, regardless of how outgoing they may be. The stereotypes of the introvert and extrovert perpetuated by our society do not have to box us in and define our individualities—they do not define our passions, our friendships, our aspirations, our happiness, our success. Be whoever the hell you want to be, whether it be the loud, boisterous tour guide marching through campus, or the person who spends their free time binge-watching Netflix and avoiding social interactions at all costs, or both—it’s all okay. Cornell is a campus where students should feel empowered to be themselves and not feel shut down by a student body and administration that preference those with louder voices. And if we can generate this kind of community on our own campus, it may also be possible on a larger scale.