How to not be a dick when meeting people at uni
WORDS BY BRIDGET HARILAOU
Meeting dozens of new people when you start or return to university is all part of the drill, and the art of polite small talk and hosting genuinely interesting conversation takes some practice. The last thing you want to do is totally offend or alienate your possible new best friend!
But if you’re like me, high school left you with a major case of foot-in-mouth and a total lack of knowledge about how to come off as the friendly, breezy and popular socialite you know you are inside. Making people feel comfortable, keeping the conversation flowing with questions that aren’t too forward and generally losing a bit of the anxiety that comes with meeting new people is undoubtedly hard stuff!
So here’s a list of a few do’s and don’ts from a student who’s experienced it all to help you not make an absolute dick of yourself in your first few weeks of uni
Don’t: Ask what someone’s ATAR score was.
Um, RUDE. This is a totally irrelevant question. You’re all at uni now, who gives a shit? It shouldn’t define anything about you or your new companion so keep it out of the conversation. It also comes off as a little insensitive to those who might have a lower mark, as well as uppity if you just want to show off you got a higher one.
Do: Ask what they’re studying.
And of course, how they’re finding their classes and all things uni related. This is a safe and easy question to kick things off that keeps the conversation in the present, and won’t leave people feeling judged on how well they did in high school.
Don’t: Ask about someone’s racial or ethnic background.
This is extremely insensitive, especially when you ask follow up questions like ‘No, where are you really from?’ or ‘Are both your parents [insert race here]?’. Many people find it annoying to constantly explain their race or ethnicity. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, these questions are especially triggering as their communities have experienced the traumas of the Stolen Generation and forced assimilation, so they might look different to your assumptions.
Do: Ask people what pronouns they use.
Examples of pronouns include she, he, they and his, hers, theirs. People who are genderqueer, trans or gender non-conforming often have different pronouns to what you (and society) often assume. It really makes someone comfortable if you check in with them and give a quick apology if you’ve misgendered them or used the wrong pronoun. There’s no need to over-apologise - just make a conscious effort not to make the mistake again.
Don’t: Make a big deal out of someone’s sexuality or gender identity.
Exclaiming, “Oh my gosh, you’re gay?” or “I totally guessed it!!” is really rude and awkward for both you and your acquaintance. Constantly asking questions about someone’s sexuality, gender and especially their genitalia is a HUGE no-no.
Do: Add them on facebook, follow them on instagram, and connect on social media.
Solidifying friendships at uni can be difficult when you only see them once a week in your tutorials or lectures. Asking to connect over social media is a way of telling them you want to be their friend, are interested in their lives, and want to see them again in the future outside of class. If you don’t have any social media, a number works just fine too. If you meet someone but forget to grab their contact, unless you have a tute or subject in common, you might never bump into them again!
Don’t: Message people constantly.
This is directed mostly at men, but all people should take note. I cannot count the amount of times some creepy guy has messaged me constantly, after I’ve said no. It honestly makes women feel harassed and upset, to have their no’s disregarded over and over. Sometimes people just don’t want to date or hang out with you, and rejecting their no is a huge red flag that you don’t understand consent! If you’ve contacted someone more than twice and they haven’t replied, cut your losses and stop messaging. Sometimes they might be too busy, or perhaps they’re just not interested in being more than classmates. Friendship is a two-way street and if they’re not reciprocating, their consent (or rather non-consent) needs to be respected. In 2014, the University of Sydney had over 50,000 students - excuse the cliche, but there are other fish in the sea!
Do: Offer to share your notes, thoughts and practice assignments with your future BFFs.
Group study is an important resource at university and group presentations can make up a really large percentage of your grade. Unlike high school, you are not competing against everyone in your course for one grade or spot, and there are no rankings when there are hundreds if not thousands of others taking your subject. Offering to share, being friendly and working well with your group can be a great way to find that bromance you were looking for.
Don’t: Ask what suburb someone lives in or where they went to high school.
This may seem like a harmless and a common question to bond over potential mutual friends, but often it appears classist and judgemental of their socio-economic background. Sydney is perhaps the most class segregated city in Australia, with census data showing that people of a low socio-economic background are pushed into Sydney’s west, while the North Shore and Eastern Suburbs are dominated by the upper classes. A high school and its reputation as either a private, selective, public or poorly performing school extends a stereotype to its ex-students which they may not be comfortable with having. Instead, bond over classes you both may take or get excited over societies and extra-curricular activities you’re both involved in.
Do: Compliment them!
A compliment when you first meet someone is simple way to brighten someone’s day, from their eyeliner to the band on their t-shirt to their sense of humour - I’m sure you can think of something. It doesn’t have to be too OTT meaningful (that will probably just make things awkward), but a well-placed compliment can go a long way to solidifying your future best friend and finally having someone to share that two-part heart pendant with (you get 'best', they get 'friend', obviously). Oh, and no backhanded compliments, thanks!
Enjoy these pearls of wisdom from someone who probably should have graduated already. Getting yourself out there and making friends at uni does take time and effort, but it’s so worth it.
New friends from a diverse range of backgrounds and faculties can teach you an incredible amount while you’re at uni, and these are usually the most important things that you could never have learnt from a lecture.
So go forth and build relationships!! If only so someone will hold your hair and pat your back when you undoubtedly end up vomiting at a Manning Bar party.