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The People in My Section

The classes may be different, but the personalities are the same

By William L. Adams

Once upon a time I actually attended all of my sections. I arrived on time, took copious notes and attempted to participate in the “discussions” led by the all-knowing TF. As a second-semester senior, however, I’ve long since given up on the illusion that section is worth the effort. I now realize that fifteen disinterested students and a grad-student-cum-teacher will not lead to enlightenment and that an exchange of trite ideas will never make the Core curriculum more bearable. Nay, I know that section is usually deadening. After observing over 30 sections in the past seven semesters, I’ve learned that the classes may be different, but the players are typically the same. They include such colorful characters as:

The Antagonist (also known as The Bitch). She loves to play devil’s advocate and isn’t afraid to take your statements out of context to one-up you in the name of zero-sum grade competition. She launches into incredibly articulate diatribes—replete with sophisticated words like “caveat”—until you’re convinced she must be utilizing the power of Satan. Don’t worry: Her stilettos cannot support the weight of her bitchiness for too long. She’ll feel bad for embarrassing you and organize a final exam study group.

The Expert. This student regularly attempts to assert his competence by relating all discussions to his area of expertise, regardless of whether a clear connection exists. For instance, if the weekly topic in Historical Studies A-12 is World War II, then The Expert (let’s say he is an environmental science and public policy concentrator) will discuss at length the environmental degradation caused by Hitler’s Third Reich.

The Flatterer. This sycophant is quick to applaud the TF for pointing out the obvious, for discovering a “dialectic,” or “complicating” an argument. “I totally agree with what you just said,” even though she can’t remember what that is exactly.

The Foreigner. The foreigner hails from Eastern Europe and is way smarter than you will ever be. His accent adds credibility to everything he says. He doesn’t understand your pop culture references and you don’t understand his work ethic.

The Flirtatious Vixen. She walks into class late so that the TF notices her and she utilizes her midriff to make him as nervous as possible. Occasionally her cleavage will work its way onto her desk, at which point she raises her hand to ask an administrative question. “When are your office hours?” She is later seen having coffee with the TF and invariably aces her papers.

The Freshman. This irritating species usually surfaces in Core classes. He is distinguished by his coursepack, the pages of which are colored neon green and orange. When his hands aren’t raised, his grubby paws clasp either a highlighter or pound against the keyboard of his Apple PowerBook. This student arrives on time, sacrifices sleep in the name of impressing the teacher, but still earns a B+ on the midterm like everyone else. Muhaha.

The Misunderstood Artist. This slightly pretentious student is defined by his too-cool-for-school persona and grungy attire. Appearing detached is of primary concern. Therefore the student remains silent and sits alone in the corner to appear angst-ridden and pensive. He usually smokes before section and en route to The Advocate.

The Offended. The Offended only speaks when he or she feels personally attacked—which is often. By acting as if their core beings have been assaulted, these students buy themselves two sections where they don’t have to talk. This student will then write up his or her anger on the Crimson editorial page.

The Self-Promoter. This specimen masks his arrogance by feigning sincerity and the suggestion that he intends to clear up confusion through his immense wisdom. His real goal is to inform the class of how erudite he is. Recently, in my section for Foreign Cultures 82, “Modern Arabic Narratives,” a student responded to another student’s interpretation of a text. “If you’ve ever read this book in Arabic”—clearly The Self-Promoter had—“you would realize that’s not what the author meant at all.” I don’t know what is more impressive: that you speak Arabic or that I didn’t vomit after seeing through your trick.

The Serial Repeater. She says one comment per section—one which has already been stated—and tunes out for the rest of class. “If you’ve ever read this book in Arabic you’d totally know the author didn’t mean that.” It is doubtful she speaks Arabic or that she has read the book.

The Thesis-Writing Senior with Six Weeks Left to Complete His Thesis. Yes, I am being reflexive. If this specimen ever comes to class, he is usually wearing the same thing he wore the week before, his mouth is surrounded by cream cheese residue, and he doesn’t seem to know what is going on. He is quick to offer an excuse as to why he missed the previous two sections, keeps a stash of “signed” UHS sick notes in his book bag and is taking the class pass/fail.

Section personalities are by no means mutually exclusive, nor are they stages in a linear process. You can ingratiate yourself to the TF while at the same time being arrogant and self-promoting. Although The Freshman will often morph into an Offended or a Serial Repeater, he or she is equally likely to become an Antagonist who criticizes your interpretations of art in The Portrait. Which started forty minutes ago. I have to go. But see you in section.

William Lee Adams ’04-’05 is a psychology concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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