Column: Obie Obsessions
I walked into one of my English classes the other morning feeling well-rested, but slightly apprehensive at the large number of people in the room. At five minutes to the start of class, enough chairs were taken that I had to sit in the back of the 50-person class. From here, I would have to shout to be heard. I don’t like shouting. Especially not in front of all those people.
I say this because what I am about to write might make it sound like I am an exception to the rule. It might seem that I am above this issue, that I am not the typical Obie. But don’t worry, I’m just as socially silly as the next person.
Once class had started, our professor had us introduce ourselves to another student sitting nearby. The guy sitting in front of me turned around, and we exchanged the usual information: name, class year, major or major-to-be, hometown. Then, as the exchange lapsed for a few seconds, he said, “I’m sorry, I’m not good at this small talk stuff.”
The truth is that few of us at Oberlin seem to be especially skilled in the business of small talk.
Most of the time when I enter a classroom before the lecture has started, I walk into a group of rather intelligent people who are carefully avoiding each others’ glances. I find it amusing, but then again, I don’t exactly break the silence myself.
Part of this phenomenon is just shyness. Obies come from so many walks of life that it’s hard to imagine we all hold this in common. But many students tend toward the reserved side, at least when not surrounded by close friends.
According to InsideHigherEd.com, a web magazine that discusses many aspects of higher education, schools are starting to employ a more “holistic” admissions process. Citing the example of Tufts University, the site claims that, when admitting based on more than a high SAT score, the school is more likely to attract well-rounded students with a variety of strengths and weaknesses. This includes varying levels of social skill.
However, it seems that Oberlin has been doing this for a while. While attention is paid to academics, emphasis is also put on aspects of the application such as the essay and interview.
And Oberlin isn’t exactly filled with a swarming mass of John Nash look-alikes, talking to ourselves and alienating others. We just don’t ask each other (unless we’re friends) how our classes are going, or even simply, “How are you?”
And my question is this: why? What makes us retreat within ourselves at the sight of large numbers of people? Personally, I wouldn’t mind making small talk every now and then. I used to think that small talk was just meaningless chatter coming out of people’s mouths, something to fill empty spaces. But recently I’ve realized that you’ve got to start somewhere. Even if it seems trite to be discussing the place where you were born, it says something about you, however subtle. It’s a point at which to begin.
In the interest of establishing more of a sense of community on campus, maybe we should let down our guards every now and then.
Of course, that might make us a little less like the stereotypical Oberlin student. So speak up, but don’t get too friendly unless you want to enact change. Who ever heard of an Obie who wants to make a difference?