Why do we ignore each other on campus?

What is the name of the always smiling cashier at the Buttery? How about the nice guy who makes the best poutine at Sid Smith? When was the last time you said HI to a familiar face from a past tutorial? Or the last time you smiled at a stranger on St. George st? Is it me or does our campus have a bad case of otherness?  The mutually understood remoteness between two transit riders, the intentional forgetting of names and faces, the blockade between two early-birds before class…why do we try so hard to ignore each other on campus? I define the conscious act of knowingly “unknowing” another on campus as otherness. Why? Because by choosing to ignore the existence of another human being within your vicinity, you are consciously creating an environment of otherness—impersonal, desolate and unfamiliar; in this state, others are mere numbers or meaningless figures to the observer. No idea what I’m talking about? Think about all the times you intentionally ignored someone from your tutorials outside of class. Just last week, I forced myself to walk by and ignore Mr. X from a seminar this year because I thought he wouldn’t remember or recognize me from class—as did he. However, Mr. X and I have participated in many dialogues in class this year and I remember always anticipating his insightful input. Then why was I so afraid to acknowledge his existence outside of class? It’s not that I had a debilitating crush on him (I didn’t); I was just scared to “break the ice” outside of class. We could’ve been great friends, but because of cowardice, on both sides, I guess we’ll never know. I feel like as students, always consumed by our own anxieties, we have forgotten that we need human plurality to exist. We need others to validate our existence in this world because through mutual recognition of each other, feelings of solidarity and belonging are strengthened. Hey commuters, ever go a whole day without talking to anybody? Been there, done that - one of the worst feelings ever. We get so caught up in the constant go go go of university life that we forget to allow others to notice us - or notice them in return.  You all know by now how hard first year was for me. I felt so disconnected from campus life because I would go days without speaking to anyone (other than the customary transactions with TTC fare collectors or supermarket vendors). Trust me I know from experience that feeling invisible is not fun. So I don’t understand why so many of us choose to preserve the state of otherness through inaction. Why is it so bizarre for me to want to stay connected to people I met in first year? Its not like I magically forgot they existed. Why do other students perceive my smile as unnerving? Why can’t I just say “Hi, its Sarah! I remember you from TRN303, how are you?” If we constantly live in fear of rejection, then we will constantly deny ourselves many possibilities of beautiful friendships and connections.
Its not like I smile like Sheldon Cooper!
I know that deep down inside, all of us want to be seen - to be recognized. We are students, predisposed to be constantly working for validation (be it through our GPA, through awards, through peers). The search for external validation is a chip on all of our shoulders. I want my professor to remember my name. I want to talk to the person sitting next to me in class - clearly, we have something in common. I want my peers in tutorials to acknowledge me outside of class. I want my friends from university to reach out to me even in the summer time. We want to not be invisible but we aren’t willing to put in the effort to dissolve the otherness in our worlds. I promise you the world is not going to implode if someone you reach out to doesn’t remember you. So what, if they respond negatively to your random smile. Their loss.  ON TO THE NEXT. Make a conscious effort to get to know the names, faces and personalities of those who inhabit your world. The cashiers, the colleagues, the acquaintances, the TAs, the profs - make them aware of your epic existence. Comment below if you have any tips on how we can break down the otherness on campus! See and be seen. Its as simple as that. PS. Stay tuned on a post on conversation starters before school starts. I’ve had my fair share of awkward small talk! PSS. Tell me below whether you’re guilty of ignoring just as much as I am or whether you’ve been ignored. - Sarah        

6 comments on “Why do we ignore each other on campus?

  1. Wow…. no comments?!!?
    This post is so relevant to so many students!
    I remember days when I would go without talking to anyone, except maybe the bus driver or TTC guy… those days were awful.
    I remember once waving to my bio250 lab partner at Sid Smith (I’d been helping her with lab notes the evening before) and she totally ignored me.
    Once the walkway was frozen over and people were slipping around a lot, and I couldn’t resist laughing at the chaos as all of us struggled to walk over it… only one girl caught my eye and laughed with me, others looked away.
    I nicknamed such people ‘robots’, who go about their business, and have a one-track mind. Quite depressing…
    By the end of the first winter term, I had learned to ignore others just as much. It did get better for me from 3rd year on though.
    Some tips:
    – FLC is a great way to have human interaction, and make good friends (i was unfortunately not eligible to be a part of this)
    – join some clubs/groups of your interest and take out time to go to events
    – some people find it easier to break the ice on the internet rather than in person, so I’d suggest keeping in touch with your classmates/group members via IM or email
    – risk being human sometimes for a change, and do what the post suggests =)

  2. I transferred to UofT in my third year after having run a student club for a year as an employee. Most of my friends had graduated the year before but I assumed from my previous experience that making friends at UofT would be easy…but…
    I remember sitting in tutorials and before the TA came it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. If I were to break the silence it would be so uncomfortable that I rarely tried!
    That all changed in 4th year. One day I asked a few girls to grab pizza after class and that turned into a weekly pub night with friends from our G20 seminar. I ended up having an end of year camping trip and a grad drinks celebration with this same group.
    I learned that even if there are awkward moments- it pays off to be the one to start a conversation. My UofT experience completely turned around :).

  3. I came across this article while ironically searching up for a topic that had nothing to do with this one, though this is a subject that has affected my life at UofT in many ways and I am glad the article found me. It is so relieving to see that I am not the only one who cares about this… I often feel like many students at UofT have misplaced their soul. How is it that even though I have clearly talked to someone numerous times, they ignore me as I am but a passerby on the street? I mean, I completely understand if people forget names, I am terrible with names – but forgetting a face? I don’t believe it one bit. It’s so awful because this impersonal behaviour becomes the norm… People are afraid of interaction, and as a result life at school becomes a very dark and brooding place. I swear, if people continue to make a habit of this, they will go on missing out on potentially great friendships, and before they know it university will be over and they’ll be regretfully thinking: “Why couldn’t I just acknowledge other people? Why was I such a coward?” I know I would, which is why I made a pact with myself (and one of my mentality-sharing friends) to be the opposite of these people. Like this article stresses, so what if the people you talk to don’t reciprocate your friendliness? Move on to next – there has to be at least one raw human being roaming this vast campus! So thank you for this, I hope more people like me will read this and try to defy the norm. People really aren’t as scary as we make them out to be in our heads.

  4. From another angle..I m working in the Cafeteria,at first i tried to engage the customers a a bit,only to realize soon after i was basically very easy to ignore 😀 ah well…monkey see monkey do,now m an ignore expert myself..thanks (i think) 🙁

  5. Wow great post! People are chicken shit to talk to each other in my class so no one does. It’s friggin’ pathetic especially when it comes time to do group work. Then you think the ice is broken. Then it freezes over again outside of class.

  6. I love reading this kind of article because it reminds me that I’m not alone in feeling like this. I just finished my first year and found it SUPER hard to talk to other people, but I thought it was entirely my social anxiety! I’m glad to know it’s a widespread issue and not a problem with me.

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