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Hillestad '15: Silent Leung fosters a more inclusive community

I admit — until recently I had never been to the Leung Family Gallery. I have long admired its beauty from afar, and its elegant chandelier is a highlight of the Main Green. But my curiosity was piqued when I read a column by James Rattner ’15 arguing that Leung should be a space for conversation and community rather than the remarkably peaceful study room it has organically become. So, armed with an excuse to visit the Gallery, I went exploring.

The room exceeded my expectations. It is a magnificent space, far larger and more beautiful than the view from the Main Green lets on. If you’ve never been, I implore you to go see for yourself. But please — be respectful.

Much of the room’s enchantment comes from its tranquility. Leung manages to be peaceful and comforting in the most tumultuous part of campus. The Gallery has a calming effect in the often overstimulating hub of activity that is the Steven Roberts ’62 Campus Center, also known as Faunce. It is a place of respite amid the chaos of campus life. But for that to remain the case, the room must be quiet.

Of course, not everybody sees it that way. Rattner argues that since the room was originally intended to be a social space, its evolution into a quiet study room was a mistake. He also makes the audacious claim that socializing is the most important aspect of college life. In that vein, Rattner argues Faunce should be used exclusively for socializing, and the 49 percent of students who want the Leung Gallery to remain quiet should be relegated to the libraries.

Whereas I encourage you to bask in the tranquility of the Leung Family Gallery, I cannot make the same recommendation for our libraries’ absolute quiet rooms. They are dungeons — places to go only when forced. Equating those dark, miserable chambers with Leung is not only a gross misrepresentation, it is insulting.

Rattner writes, “Faunce should foster and celebrate Brown’s community.” I agree — but remember, there are a multitude of ways to celebrate our diverse community. It is closed-minded to assume that everybody views socializing as the best way to foster a strong sense of community.

Though Rattner’s point is true for many, it is a vast generalization. His line of reasoning disregards those who value introspection over small talk. It subverts the quiet will of introverts in favor of the raucous dominance of extroverts. Unfortunately, this is a theme on Brown’s campus. Brown, like most universities, engages in the unintentional practice of introvert-shaming. It is not malicious, but it is harmful nonetheless.

The phenomenon is so common that it frequently goes unnoticed. We’ve all been subject to it, and we’ve all participated in it ourselves — even introverts like myself.

It’s those judgmental looks you get eating alone at the Sharpe Refectory. From the other perspective, it’s when you invade that person’s table because you’re too tired of looking for an open one. It’s that distinctive pressure you feel when your friends give you a hard time for staying in on the weekend while they go out and party. For those doing the pressuring, it’s when you drag your friend to that party over their protests.

It’s when introverts are told to stay in their libraries and leave the entirety of Faunce for the extroverts. And finally, it’s when you barge into Leung and break the room’s precious silence even though you know better.

There is a pervasive lack of empathy toward introverts, who are often treated like there’s something wrong with them for avoiding the everyday social interactions that extroverts thrive on.

This stems from our preconceived notion that, while being an introvert is fine, being an extrovert is always better. Introverts are bombarded with criticism that pressures them to become people they’re not. The process is only amplified on a college campus where social capital is the defining measure of worth. In this, Brown is particularly complicit.

To reiterate, introvert-shaming is not a conscious act. Yet, that fails to vindicate us. We are still blameworthy for blindly accepting society’s demeaning attitude toward introverts.

We must be more conscious of this status quo mindset that favors extroversion. We must be understanding toward those who see Leung as a sanctuary from Brown’s overbearing social scene.

Leung is the one place on campus where the community comes together to celebrate introversion, and the fact that it happens at the center of campus makes it that much more powerful. In other words, Leung embodies the exception to the fallacious rule that extroversion is always better.

That rule is based on the assumption that’s at the heart of introvert-shaming. Rattner, and the Brown community at large, assume socializing is — or at least should be — inherently valued by everyone.

That assumption blinds us to the value of a room used for anything other than socializing or studying.

Leung is not merely a quiet study space. It is a place to enjoy silence together. Fostering a sense of community does not require active conversation. There is a different, often more fulfilling connection to be found in shared silence.

That connection is what makes Leung unique. The room not only allows us to appreciate the beauty of silence, but it allows us to do it together. That is the introvert’s dream, for we are not misanthropes. We still yearn for a sense of community.

If the purpose of Faunce is to foster that sense of community, then Leung has achieved that goal far better than one more room for socializing could have ever done. The room’s original design was good, but what it has become is great. If it takes a sign officially designating the room as quiet to protect that greatness, so be it.

Thus far, however, without any explicit direction, the Gallery has managed to become a bastion for introverts on a campus dominated by extroverts. Ultimately, that is the virtue of having this quiet space at the heart of campus.

Leung lets us be around people, see friends, and do work — all without the pressure to engage in meaningless small talk. The room sheds the need to constantly put up a facade, and its silence remediates society’s push toward extroversion. In short, the Gallery lets us be ourselves in public.

Do not take that away from us.

 

Sam Hillestad ’15 can be reached at samuel_hillestad@brown.edu.



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