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Op-ed: Why participation matters

You’re at a meeting about five years from now. You hate meetings. Nothing ever gets done because nobody — including you — ever participates. Does this sound familiar?

Too often, my classes are filled with silence. Too often, a teacher asks a question to the class and suddenly everyone — including me — is trying to crack a riddle.

Why does this happen? Because we’re milquetoast Millennials? Apparently that’s far from the truth.

Dr. Patrick Morse, a Belmont psychology professor who specializes in social psychology, said the silent classroom is a good example of pluralistic ignorance.

In a classroom setting, pluralistic ignorance occurs when a student assumes nobody else has a question because everyone is quiet. That student then stays quiet as well in order not to be the odd one out. Often, everyone is thinking of the same question, but no one realizes it.

Pluralistic ignorance is a sociological phenomenon, not the fault of a generation. And while it isn’t the only cause for silence, we can now assume that our classmates are also cringing inside whenever a teacher’s invitation falls flat.

Understanding this, we should be able to assume responsibility for our own participation a little easier.

Another thing that can hinder participation is students’ opinions of the professor. We should never blame a teacher for silence. Often times a professor will try to get us talking by setting up group discussions or changing the desks around or refusing to move on until we say something.

That’s tedious — they shouldn’t have to work so hard or wait so long for us.

A teacher can “make” a class, but that is by no means a requirement. How you feel about a teacher shouldn’t keep you from participating. That’s childish. Five years from now you may not like your boss. Regardless of who you’re facing, you’ve got to put yourself out there.

I don’t know what motivates you personally, but I do know that behavior and thoughts influence one another. If you want to change, believe in yourself. Sit up straight and listen closely to your professor like the student you want to be. Act like you are taking charge of yourself and you soon will.

If you aren’t certain, raise your hand anyway. Don’t worry about whether your answer is not profound enough or too profound, because it is always one or the other if you think about it too much. Participating will save class time, give everyone some respite, and may even help others join in.

Participating in class is also great practice for your future job.

Allen Hovious, president of LBMC Planning Services and former vice president brand director for the Jack Daniel Distillery, recently visited my marketing class and asked for questions at the end of his lecture.

He waited.

He said that, in the real world, we will be expected to speak up. He said the class time is our meeting. Not the teacher’s. Not his. He came to speak for us, not to us.

The class is our meeting. And not unlike the real world, showing up is only half the battle because once you’ve shown up, it’s time to show everyone how smart and useful you are.

Also, most of us are already financially tied to Belmont. Why not also give Belmont our thoughts and voices?

It’s time more of us put our brains where our bodies are. We’re hard-working, critical-thinking Millennials. We’re in college. Let’s play the part.

No pressure.

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