Ah, discussion section. That special time during the week where the only thing more awkward than the cross-sections of the Northwestern student body is the seemingly eternal silences. Attendance is most often motivated by self-induced obligations to maintain or raise participation grades that barely outweigh the desire to sleep an extra hour. There are, however, the outliers – the unique students that liven up these generally apathetic undertakings, for better or for worse.
1. The person who doesn’t seem to grasp that they are not speaking to a crowd of 10,000
Are they training for a future career as a hype man? Were they sick the day their kindergarten teacher taught the invaluable inside-voice-versus-outside-voice distinction? We don’t know, but we do have to endure the consequences in small classrooms. SESP sophomore Maggie Graham knows this type well.
“This girl ... would scream things like, ‘Could you go back to the last page?! There’s just no way I could have gotten all of that down!’ and it made everything really uncomfortable,” Graham said. The student appeared not to expect the same decibel levels from her classmates. “She would be called on and wait and look around until everyone was silent,” Graham said. “She was really aggressive but also clearly wanted to do the right thing because she was stressed out about doing well, which I appreciate.”
2. The person who "thinks it’s charming that they’re obviously hungover" or drunk
If there’s one rule of college, it’s that the more nights you spend in basements, where so much condensation from people’s sweat gathers on the ceiling that it starts raining back down into your Skol, the cooler you are. One such campus king was in a class with Communication sophomore Tracy Rosenblum. She said he often made snide remarks such as, "'I was drunk for that whole class, and Señora never even guessed. She just thought I was being funny, which I was.'"
"Nobody cared," Rosenblum said. "Also it was more concerning that it was like, 11 a.m. on a Wednesday and this guy pregamed class."
3. The person who fills enclosed, poorly-ventilated classrooms with the sweet aroma of their breakfast food
Students in Medill freshman David Nkemere’s section were transported to the docks of Seattle each week when a classmate would eat fish during discussion. "Outside discussion he was kind of cool to talk to," said Nkemere, "but once you put him in discussion section ... he combats everything. He thinks everything is stupid, he thinks everything he does is right, and his damn fish just gave you something to not like about him."
4. The person who thinks one detail from their high school personal life makes them an expert on a subject
Weinberg sophomore Sarah Bruyere took a class focusing on linguistics in which she had the pleasure of hearing not one but many individuals’ tales of what happened during their apparent glory days.
"Everybody was saying things that nobody cared about," she said. "You realize you’re just bragging about what you did in high school. You’re not actually talking about linguistic differences, you’re just trying to one-up each other."
5. The lovebirds
Ah, college romance. It sings. It blossoms. It creates awkwardness so intense that students only wish they could assume liquid form and seep into the floor to avoid seeing the people they encountered at that one party with the strong jungle juice. Weinberg sophomore Haley Dunbrack remembers the trajectory of a relationship that blossomed during one of her discussions.
“There was this guy who always sat next to us and this other girl who sat across the room from us, and this guy was always kind of grumpy looking,” she said. “One day we walk into class and they’re sitting right next to each other giggling, and he’s smiling. This is the first time I’d ever seen him smile. Every time someone would say something, he would kind of make a comment and giggle.”
The flirting came to an abrupt halt the next week, as the two students “never acknowledged each other ever again, and don’t speak, and [the guy] was back to grumpy,” Dunbrack said.
6. The person who corrects the professor but turns out to be right
The only thing more annoying than a student who comments in discussion incessantly is a student whose incessant comments are correct. Weinberg sophomore Lilly Scheerer said she took a course where another student "contradicted the professor, and my professor emailed the whole class and was like 'Yes, I was wrong. This girl was right. Good job!'"
Though she said she finds the student’s remarks rather irritating, she acknowledges that her classmate was "always really engaged, which I guess is good; she’s a good student."
7. The person who is noticeable in lecture
Indeed, it takes a special set of talents to stand out not only in a discussion section but an entire lecture hall of students. Weinberg sophomore Jeffrey Frankel discusses his experience in an 8 a.m. class "that is just so profoundly awful nobody ever wants to speak, except this one [girl] who sat front and center who would always talk to the professor before class, meaning that she would get there before 8 a.m. every day."
"She was like his best friend," Frankel said. But that changed abruptly during week four of the quarter. "Her phone rang while she was answering a question ... so everyone paid attention to what she was doing. He looked at her while her phone was ringing, and when she finished turning it off, he walked away and didn’t let her finish," Frankel said. "He never called on her again."
8. The person who delivers an entire soliloquy every time they talk
They sure took that "all the world’s a stage" quote to heart. Once they have the floor, they start giving a lecture of their own, and the future of TED talks looks brighter than ever. SESP freshman Fannie Koltun was in a section with someone who was "obviously very opinionated because she would be the only one who did the reading," which worked to the rest of the class’ disadvantage when "she’d raise her hand and talk for literally five minutes," Koltun said.
On top of this, however, "none of us would understand a word that she said." Koltun said that when the student finished her comments, the TA would summarize them "in two sentences. And he’d be like, 'Is that what you mean?' and she’d be like 'No.' And then silence for ten minutes."
9. The person who raises their hand as if every comment is their last chance to speak before Earth spontaneously implodes and promptly disintegrates into a fine powder
It must be nerve-wracking to know that you may never get to speak your mind because of humanity’s imminent and fast-approaching apocalyptic doom. Weinberg junior Victoria Jankowski took a class with someone who possessed this sense of urgency and found a creative way to get the TA to notice him.
"He normally has a pen in his hand, a very shiny pen, and he sits across from the window," Jankowski said. "So he’ll reach up as far as he can, and every five seconds, he’ll twinkle his pen around a little bit so the light catches to try to bring attention to him."
10. And last but not least, the age-old rule: if you don’t know who stands out in your discussion section, it’s you.
Communication sophomore Sami Rose shares her thought process behind the time she spends in discussion section, noting that she is, in fact, "a normal human who doesn’t feel the need to talk over other people for periods of time slash prove that they did the reading in everyday conversation."
"But when I go into discussion, I turn into a person who needs to have all of the opinions and needs to say them right at that moment," Rose said. "One of my friends once told me that there’s me, and there’s a discussion version of me." Rose said she doesn’t always know why or even how her discussion alter-ego operates during class. "Toward the middle [of a comment] I’ll be like, 'How did I get here? Why have I been talking this long? I want to be done and leave now.'"
It may be unclear whether many of these unusual students make discussion section infinitely more enjoyable or mind-numbingly irksome, but they do make sure we retain at least something from our distribution requirement courses – even if it’s not necessarily the curriculum material.