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Front and center

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I am that girl who sits in the first row of class. Unapologetically. Whether it’s an introsem or a 250-person lecture, whether I’m alone or in good company, I will be seated in the front of the room, as close to the center as possible.

I’m well aware of the social stigma against sitting in the front row. Sitting up front means you’re a try-hard, a teacher’s pet, the obnoxious student who asks a million questions and thinks the whole lecture revolves around her. People who sit in the front row are just trying to get attention and mark themselves as intellectual superiors (which probably means they suffer from a hideous inferiority complex). Those who sit up front aren’t cool, and — even worse — they aren’t making an effort to hide it.

I’ve heard the stereotypes; I’ve even believed the stereotypes. Even as I sit in the front row, I look around at the people on either side of me and wonder what their problem is. Who do they think they are, claiming territory in the front of the auditorium?

I’m not much of an activist, but I do think it’s about time we stop stigmatizing the front row and start celebrating its benefits. Yes, the front row problem is completely trivial and hardly worth writing an article about, but it does speak to something deeper in our culture: We weigh social norms more heavily than learning benefits. We are quick to box people into inferior identities for “infractions” as small as sitting in the front row. Even at a school like Stanford — or perhaps because we are at a school like Stanford — we feel a splash of contempt when we perceive others as trying to “get ahead” by sitting up front.

So, to combat the front-row stigma and hopefully draw attention to a variety of absurd social norms beyond it, let me list my reasons for sitting in the front row.

  1. I pay attention better. When I’m sitting in the back — or even in the second row — it’s much easier to covertly check my phone and gradually slip into the technologically-induced daze that subsumes the entire lecture. My professors all have no-technology policies in the classroom, so when I sit up front, I’m usually too scared to check my phone for fear of being called out and humiliated in front of the whole class. Sitting up front is thus a way to protect myself from my primitive desire to scroll through Instagram instead of following algebraic derivations on the board.
  2. My professors are more likely to recognize me and know my name. I suppose this does qualify as a “teacher’s-pet” motivation, but let’s be utilitarian for a moment: When your professor knows your name and recognizes you as “that kid up front,” they’re likely to think you’re interested in their subject. Professors, by virtue of being in academia, are also very interested in their subject, and they love students who share their passion and aren’t just in it for the analyst position at Goldman Sachs. By sitting up front (and asking questions), you signal to your professor that you care, which will make them more amenable in office hours, possibly be the difference between a B+ and an A-, and increase your chances of being offered a research position, a glowing recommendation letter or any form of help in the future.
  3. Leg room. Leg. Room. Sitting in the front row gives you so much more space to spread out. I’m only 5’1″, and the back rows feel cramped to me, so I can’t even imagine what the rest of you tall people experience back there. In the front row, you get to stretch your legs, put your backpack comfortably on the ground in front of you (or probably on the seat next to you since no one else sits up front) and have a much, much easier time getting up to go to the bathroom mid-lecture. If nothing else convinces you that the front row is the place to be, this reason should.

So, against all social norms, against the contemptuous glances from strangers and friends, I implore you to spend a lecture in the front row. Does it make you feel embarrassed or exposed? Engaged or more connected to the material? Could you get used to it (and all the leg room it provides)?

Let’s de-stigmatize the front row for the benefit of everyone who likes paying attention, knowing their professors and being able to get up to pee without disrupting the whole auditorium. Hope to see you there.

 

Contact Avery Rogers at averyr ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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