Not-so-common sense?

Winter is quickly approaching, sicknesses in various forms are spreading and final exams are the only obstacles between students and break. Though University students are preparing for their last graded tests of what they have learned this semester, students are examined on a daily basis as to the extent of their common sense.

While University students are among the best and brightest in the nation, were in the top of their high school classes and had high SAT scores, some believe there is a general lack in knowledge outside of the classroom.

University of Michigan senior Christina Hagan, who worked at the University this summer, said she had high expectations for students here when she first arrived.

"University of Virginia has a very high reputation, and they're real book-smart people, so I was expecting them to have a level of street smarts to match it," Hagan said.

Instead, Hagan said she was not impressed with what she found. The Facebook group "Overheard at U.Va.," which hosts amusing anecdotes that students witness around Grounds, demonstrates just the kind of behavior and conversations Hagan observed.

"I don't even know how to describe what I discovered when I came to U.Va.," Hagan said. "A lot of things would be what people would say. I was expecting them to be like Michigan students, but they're not."

The lack of common sense, or "street smarts," that Hagan mentioned is noticed by many University students and professors as well.

"I walk the Grounds Saturday and Sunday morning for exercise, and, on more than one occasion, I've seen students out in 30-degree weather in mid-October/November in flip-flops, shorts, occasionally even barefoot," Drama Prof. John Frick said. "I know full well what is going to happen -- they're going to get sick and go to their professor and say, 'I've got pneumonia' ... [in late fall there are] all kinds of illnesses, and it doesn't make much sense to go out and ask for it."

Third-year College student Blake Segal agreed that many University students don't always act in accordance with their level of intellect, yet he said they usually are more careful when it comes to more significant matters.

"If you wear flip-flops in the wintertime, you're wack," Segal said. "If you are surprised that you slipped on the stairs of Cabell when it's raining outside, you are wack ... but I think people are smart about important things, like getting work done."

Frick attributed this apparent lack in common sense more to the college age group than as a distinctive characteristic of the University itself.

"It may be the tail end of the feeling of invulnerability from when you're a teenager," Frick said. "I don't think it's unique to U.Va. -- I'd venture to say there are [plenty of illogical] things that are done elsewhere. My colleagues at other colleges seem to say their students" do not exhibit any more common sense than students here.

As Hagan mentioned, many times students get caught up in their studies, especially at a school such as the University, and don't get to experience the "real world."

"There's definitely a difference between book smarts and street smarts," Segal said. "I think people at U.Va. have both, which is why we don't go to awful depressing bookworm schools. I think a defining characteristic of U.Va. is we can work hard and be normal people."

Yet some still said they feel there is a disparity between students' knowledge required for class and that required in the world outside of Grounds. Third-year Commerce student Lindsey Preuss said she herself is guilty of not being as aware as she should be of current events.

"Even in my classes, a lot of people seemed uninformed of the potential significance of the elections we just had," Preuss said. "Either they didn't really know a lot about the candidates or they didn't know the results, and a lot of them didn't know that next morning it was still being contested."

Preuss suggested the University's location as a main factor in students' awareness, or lack thereof.

"I think if we were in more of a city, if we were in D.C. or in New York, we'd have a better idea [of world events], because you can feel it all around you," Preuss said. "But the fact that we're in a small town, I think it's easy to forget everything that's going on ... when the only problems you can see in front of you are whether the men's soccer team will get to the championship game or when your next final is. We sort of make our own problems seem huge and limit our view of world problems that actually affect a lot more people."

Preuss said living in this Charlottesville bubble tends to give University students a complex of indestructibility, much like what Frick referred to.

"I'm sure there's a percentage of U.Va. students that are very informed and very conscientious, but I think there's also a large group of people who are like me and think that, we're at U.Va. -- it's the number one or number two public school in the country," Preuss said. "It's almost a feeling of invincibility and unaffectedness -- that we're going to affect the world, but we're not going to affect it yet."

Charlottesville and the University act as a microcosm, further shielding students from the outside world, as Preuss mentioned. Yet students' apparent lack of knowledge outside of their textbooks is not so much a criticism of the University in particular, but of the college demographic in general.

"I would think [the lack of familiarity with the outside world] is prevalent at all schools," Preuss said. "I think it's surprising it's so prevalent at U.Va., given the type of student that comes here."

Frick agreed the University is not different from other schools in that regard, no matter how many hours students spend in the library.

"I'd venture to say you could go to Harvard and see people walking in 20-degree weather in flip-flops, too," he said.

related stories