A neutral color a day keeps the cold-calling away

Feb. 1, 2018, 1:00 a.m.

I’m a big fan of bright colors and matching bandanas, so, naturally, I wear them both a lot; I’ve never really put that much thought into it. Other than getting questions about how many different bandanas I could possibly have, this stylistic choice has had little to no effect on my life whatsoever – until recently.

I was sitting in a lecture, sporting a red sweatshirt and, of course, a red bandana as well. The professor asked a question, one that I had no intention of raising my hand to answer, mainly because I had no idea what I would say. Apparently, though, even in a room of over 100 people, everyone else was thinking the same thing, because the room was silent, the air was still and all hands were clasped firmly in laps.

“You. In the red.”

My heart skipped a beat. I looked up nervously from my notebook, only to find that the professor’s eyes were locked with another poor soul about six seats over and three rows ahead. I could breathe again, but inside I wept for the other red-clad victim.

Cold-calling. I find it terrifying. I always have, and I probably always will. I’ve sat through lecture after lecture, tensing my muscles when there’s too long of a pause after a proposed question, relaxing when someone voluntarily jumps in to provide an answer, only to freeze again when, minutes later, the dreaded silence permeates the room once more.

I don’t know why, but class participation makes me anxious. As someone who has to mentally hype herself up to even participate in smaller sections, the thought of being forced into conversation in front of over 100 people, without warning, shakes me to my core.

I know what you’re probably thinking: I claim to hate cold-calling, and yet I made such a rookie mistake! If I had been called on, it would have been my own fault. Bright colors make someone easily distinguishable. It’s much easier to target the one person in neon orange, surrounded by a sea of grays and whites, than the “one” person in the black shirt. No, not that one. The one next to him. No, that one. On the other side.

You see what I mean?

If you want to avoid cold-calling, try to stick to basic, neutral colors in class. But if you’re like me, and you can’t resist a good yellow shirt and yellow bandana combo every now and then, there are a few other ways to at least try to steer clear of having to awkwardly pull an answer out from where the sun doesn’t shine.

If you sense a cold-call coming on, choose that moment to conveniently drop your pencil. Maybe stay down there “looking for it” a little longer than you need to. If you’re ducked down and can’t be seen, you’ll be safe at least for this go-round.

Alternatively, you can whip out your acting skills and make it seem like you’ve never been so invested in writing down notes as you are in that very moment. Scribble furiously, and perhaps the professor will be less inclined to interrupt a student who is hard at work. Maybe the lack of eye contact will also help.

On the other hand, for the brave few, making direct eye contact could be a form of reverse psychology – convince the professor with your gaze that this is child’s play for you. If they’re someone who likes to challenge the students who seem confused, maybe you’ll be left alone.

All else fails, you could just gather up the courage to throw a comment in at the beginning of class. If you’ve already willingly participated, you’re less likely to be exposed later on.

Needless to say, that was the last day I wore red to class. I hate cold-calling, but it’s a part of life. Despite my best efforts, sometimes there’s just an unlucky day. Don’t worry, I’ll still be wearing my bright colors and matching bandanas – but maybe I’ll just start wearing these outfits over the weekend.


Contact Kassidy Kelley at kckelley ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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