Since the end of my high school life is rapidly approaching, I have been doing some research on colleges recently. I have done a couple college visits, just to get a feel of what the schools are like. I sign up online, and come into the presentation room, where I sit with many other curious applicants who all want to learn more about the college as well. Some energetic student or admissions officer gives a presentation, where they tell us what the school is all about, and what the process of applying might be like. Those in attendance also get little booklets, which recap some of the information that was discussed during the presentation.
Just the other day, I was sitting in a presentation room, listening to an admissions officer talk about essays and what kind of traits they are looking for in applicants, etc… I was half listening and half flipping through and examining the pictures in the booklet. I noticed a common theme in these images as I have in previous college booklets that I have seen. There seems to be a much greater number of group photos than photos of individuals. Colleges do this in order to promote the idea of the “community”, where everybody belongs and everybody fits in. But is being part of a community always such a good ideal to promote to young people?
I believe that the community ideal is promoted because people are pack animals, and so people feel safer when they are reassured that they are going to be in an educational environment where they are also part of a pack. Colleges like to show that people are very welcoming by showing a lot of photos of groups of people all smiling and laughing together. However, there are many times where it is not a good idea to promote the community ideal. One of said situations is when the community ideal is promoted without also emphasizing individualism. If you tell people that there are a lot of great opportunities to make friends and join groups, then you are making people feel pressured into conforming to that ideal. While I understand that colleges are trying to make students feel that they would be welcomed by peers, these schools also seem to forget the fact that individual expression is important.
One thing that I have heard at more than one college presentation is “we want you to join clubs and get involved”. However, they don’t seem to acknowledge that not everybody wants to be involved in these kinds of activities. And yet, the emphasis on this group ideal seems to normalize it to possible future students. I have not heard a single college presentation talk about how the school promotes the individual and independence.
I am an introvert who has never really enjoyed clubs or big group activities. While I like to spend time with friends, I don’t like feeling pressured into group activities that I don’t want to be a part of. If I had a choice, I would much rather go for a walk by myself than be part of a hiking club. And yet, many schools seem to disregard the introverts and assume that everybody should do activities in a group setting. This is a manifestation of the American “extroverted” ideal.
While there’s nothing wrong with promoting inclusion and the community life, this is done by some colleges in such a way that the individual is forgotten. The person who would rather do something on their own is told that they should become involved in many group activities and clubs, just so they can be “part of something” and feel like they are doing what everyone else is doing. In the process, we forget that some of the most remarkable accomplishments are achieved when someone is working alone. Any place that promotes learning and growth should acknowledge that everybody works best in different situations, and try to promote that. Instead of simply encouraging people to be involved in big group activities, why not show the opportunities for individual growth as well? Why not also express that it’s okay if you do not want to be involved in this kind of activity?
While this issue may seem insignificant in the long run, it is just another example of how the “group ideal” is promoted in young people. Parents always talk about how young people make bad decisions in groups, and how they shouldn’t conform to the group mindset. Yet, we show kids these kinds of images and tell them that they should get involved in group activities and clubs, no matter what. This only serves to make people feel like there’s only one right way to do things, and that’s the group way. If we want our kids to make their own decisions and stay true to themselves, we need to stop making them feel like they have to be part of a community. We need to stop making introverts feel guilty that they’re not in a big social group. We need promote individualism to a degree that people don’t feel like there’s something wrong with them if they want to be alone. The older generations often complain about peer influence, and yet they only help to cause the problem by forcing kids to go to big social events and telling them they need to do what everybody else is doing. By teaching kids that this is normal, individualism is being destroyed and replaced with guilt and a feeling that there is something wrong with you if you don’t perfectly fit in. Guess what? There’s really not!
It’s not the fault of anybody in particular. I think that a lot of the time, this idea is very subconscious, so we may be promoting it without being entirely aware of it. But if we all pay attention to how the extroverted ideal is pushed on the younger generation, then we can start to promote the individualism that many feel we are lacking in our culture.