Or, to be honest, we’ve discovered we never knew them in the first place and we’ve passed the time in which it is socially acceptable to ask. We may have introduced ourselves a hundred times, collapsing our personalities into name, hometown, year and major, but in the deluge of introductions nothing quite stuck. The end of the third week marks a time when professors stop asking everyone to introduce themselves in class. It is assumed that we know each other now.
This third-week name problem doesn’t just apply to classes; it applies to all of the other people you’ve met outside of class since the beginning of freshman week. It’s not that you don’t want to remember their names, or that you’ve forgotten the person entirely. The problem is that with so many names, it is nearly impossible to remember them all the first time around or even the fifth time around. Yet, custom dictates that after an arbitrary number of meetings one mustn’t ask for a reintroduction. Luckily, there is usually another friend around who can discreetly jog your memory. Such is not the case with classes.
Those of us who are not name-remembering wizards are at a loss by the third week. We must now start a delicate social game of navigating through class without people finding out we don’t know their names. We get so good at this social game that by the end of the year, anyone sitting in on the class would be fooled into thinking we know each other well. But, as embarrassed as I am to admit it, by the time final exams came around last year, there were still many people whose names I hadn’t pieced together. Was the guy in my precept John or James? Did the girl in my French class pronounce her name with a long or soft ‘a?’ Who the heck sits next to me in lecture? I’d wager I was just as nameless to them as they were to me. Anonymity in lectures is close to unavoidable, and namelessness in small classes usually fades by the end of the year. It is in precepts that anonymity really becomes an issue.
On the Princeton website precepts are described as “small discussion groups” allowing students to “engage their classmates” as well as “an open forum in which students are encouraged to voice their opinions and challenge those of their peers.” The idea is that a small community of students, each with a different background, comes together in order to better understand a text or concept. More often than not it is a group of strangers saying just enough to score participation points. We are so far from the ideal small discussion group that we rarely know the names of the people with whom we are supposed to be discussing issues, let alone their diverse backgrounds. Voicing our ideas and challenging those of others becomes much more daunting in a room full of people you barely know.
Anonymity is not the main cause of the weaknesses of the precept system, but it is the one over which students have the most control. Ultimately, deciding to learn the names of our classmates is a personal choice. It involves pushing past social protocol and asking someone’s name in the fourth week of class or the tenth week. You may prefer to navigate without someone’s name than admit you still don’t know it, and that’s okay. The precept system will continue on regardless of how well we know each other. That was my preference last year. It was easy; it was safe; it was default.
But, this year I vowed to be different. I made a personal pledge to learn the names of the people in my small classes, seminars and especially precepts. Three weeks in, I’m still struggling. Names have never stuck well with me, even with people I’ve known for months. The process has involved many mental repetitions, many worries over mispronunciations and thankfully some progress. I’m not quite there yet, but this year is looking less anonymous than the last.
Rebecca Kreutter is a sophomore from Singapore. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/10/09/31434/