Broadly Speaking: The Psychology of Sections

Opinion by Molly Spaeth
April 27, 2010, 12:34 a.m.

Broadly Speaking: The Psychology of SectionsSo I had this really nice, gooey column planned out where I was going to talk about relationships and class government and how they intersect and interact at Stanford as the Class of 2011 enters into our senior year, but then I stopped.

I stumbled onto something better: This week, ladies and gentleman, we’re talking about SECTIONS.

You know exactly what I’m talking about–those 50 dreaded minutes of each week when you have to go from highly competent G-chatter in lecture to highly insightful critical thinker in a group of 10 other people you don’t know. Section requires you to take highly opinionated, firm stances on whether or not a theory some guy created in the 50s is an accurate indicator of what happened in the 1994 midterm elections and the Republican “Contract with America.”

But in all (relative) seriousness, I wanted to take this time to actually analyze the psychology of sections. And although my background in psychology consists primarily of the countless hours I’ve logged discussing what “see you later” means in a text message, I have also spent countless hours in section. In sum, I may not have the expertise, but I definitely have the experience.

Although there are a myriad of different personality types that constitute the section dynamic, I’m going to run through my favorite five. The first is That Guy, that guy whose greatest gift is his ability to somehow tie every facet of the reading for this week to some facet of his resume. Due to the sheer volume of his comments and blatant desire to blow everyone else’s participation out of the water, it doesn’t really matter if That Guy’s comments are worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize or if they couldn’t pass a 6th-grade standardized test, everyone in section hates That Guy.

Then there’s the Silent One, the antithesis of That Guy. The Silent One spends the entire section cultivating, analyzing and sweating over that one comment she will contribute to discussion. The Silent One turns bright red whenever too many people look at her, and has nightmares about being cold-called by the professor in lecture. The Silent One dreads section almost as much as That Guy dreads not having enough copies of his resume to hand out at the Career Fair.

Then there’s the Silent-But-Brilliant. Unlike the Silent One, the Silent-But-Brilliant is silent not out of fear, but out of sheer coolness. The Silent-But-Brilliant has this incredible gift of spending the first 25 minutes of section scrolling through pictures on failblog, pausing for a few seconds to make the most substantive, insightful comment in all of section, then spending the last 24 minutes and 30 seconds posting on cool pop culture blogs with fellow Silent-But-Brilliant people. Unfortunately, the earth-shattering insight exhibited by Silent-But-Brilliant is often almost immediately drowned out by That Guy, to his right, rambling on about how his finance internship last fall in Abu Dhabi helped him to really understand what Pat Buchanan meant about the 1994 midterm elections (notice how a finance internship in Abu Dhabi and Pat Buchanan have very little to do with each other? Case in point).

Then there is of course, Food Girl: the girl who somehow thinks it’s appropriate to eat food loudly, messily and generally with utter disregard for her peers. Her food of choice usually involves some sort of pungent smell, although this smell can range anywhere from garlic cream cheese to the Southwest Chicken Salad from Tresidder.

And then there is of course, The Silence-Killer. The Silence-Killer, although nowhere near the most brilliant or insightful person in the room, feels a fundamental responsibility to kill any prolonged, awkward silence in discussion. The Silence-Killer is the one that everyone, TAs and fellow students alike, fundamentally rely on for simply saying something. The Silence-Killer is the one you can depend on to somehow fumble up a response to some highly metaphysical question the TA just asked that has even That Guy stumbling for words. The Silence-Killer would rather be known as the section idiot than sit through another second of unbearable silence as That Guy works furiously trying to figure out how to tie the last question into his resume.

As you can see, section dynamics are very intricate, complex, hierarchical social structures. They can breed hatred, but they can also breed new besties. So although you may not have understood the last three comments That Guy to your left said, look to your right. Because when you and the Silent-But-Brilliant across the room realize you’re both scrolling through the same hip, pop-culture tech blog, you may have found a new best friend and, consequently, the light at the end of section tunnel.

Molly is hoping none of her TAs saw this column. If you’re one of Molly’s TAs, send an e-mail to [email protected] so she can tell you how much she loves section.

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