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One of the hazards of being a college student and introvert is the constant possibility of wandering into a survey, meeting, information session, or giveaway that you had no intention of being part of. Those of you who have walked across a college campus recently know what I’m talking about.
“Are you registered to vote at your current address?”
“Are you here to paint the sidewalk with the Alpha Beta Gamma sorority?”
“Would you sign a petition to legalize marijuana in this state?”
At my community college, I carefully read the weekly newsletter, so I knew which areas of campus to avoid. Here, at my state school, there are events constantly, on every corner of campus, so I am often ambushed.
“Would you like a free safe-sex kit?”
“Can you sign this petition for a frisbee golf course on campus?”
“Are you interested in information about the Green Party candidates?”
I try to keep my head down, try not to make eye contact with the people hawking brochures or condoms, and convey by my posture and pace that I’m in a hurry, have things to do, places to be, and have no intention of participating in their hullabaloo.
Occasionally, though, I stumble right into somebody else’s party. I blame the lack of signage for my most recent error. Last week, before Thanksgiving, I had an hourlong break between a class and an important meeting. I hurried to the university’s public lunchroom to microwave a container of soup I had brought as a quick snack. I stopped as I crossed the threshold. Something was wrong. The tables were decorated with tablecloths and centerpieces involving electric candles. There was a sort of sign-in table in front of me. The ladies at the table turned their attention to me.
“Um, can I use the microwave?” I blurted, trying to peer around the corner to see if the microwaves were accessible at all, or if they were blocked by decor. Horrified, I spotted the president of the university and quickly looked away.
One of the ladies, facing the opposite direction, apparently had a clear line of sight toward the microwaves and told me they were inaccessible. “But can we interest you in a free meal?”
The sign on the front of the sign-in table advertised the university’s food pantry. I declined and hurried off in the direction of a different set of microwaves.
I guessed, and later confirmed via the online list of events, that this was the free student Thanksgiving meal, hence the presence of tablecloths, electronic candles, and the university president. I realize it would have been okay for me to accept a meal in that case. I had declined being unsure what the event was, who it was for, why they were giving out free food, and about the mysterious presence of upper-level administrators. But it wouldn’t have made sense for me to attend anyway given that I was going home to a Thanksgiving meal, I was in something of a hurry, and I really didn’t want to be part of the university president’s constant campaign to “make connections with students.” It was a nice hullabaloo, but I still didn’t want to participate, not when I had wandered in by mistake, nor when I learned later that I wouldn’t have been gatecrashing anything.
And then, of course, there are unwritten rules for public spaces. The kitchen in the building for my academic department is full of these. Before COVID, it was ostensibly open to the public but mostly frequented by professors, and sometimes, if you walked in there to check the storage for materials for a class project, you would stop a conversation between faculty members. Was I OK to check the cabinet for cupcake tins needed for a class, or was I interrupting somebody’s meeting? Then it was closed for a year due to COVID, but I had to go in and check the storage anyway. I mentally rehearsed my explanation for being in the restricted area and hoped nobody would ask me any questions. (Nobody ever did.)
My campus is full of random events to accidentally participate in. I don’t think people would really mind if I unintentionally joined their gatherings. There’s a rather generic left-wing protest, for example, that seems to be suffering from low attendance. I don’t think that group would care if I stood nearby and inflated its numbers by 25%. And many people are actively trying to recruit into their student groups, handing out free snow cones and contact-information cards. But some combination of my pride, introversion, desire to be left alone, and aversion to spam emails causes me to live in horror of walking into somebody else’s hullabaloo.Published in