Stuttering in College Part 1

Obviously there’s a lot that went on my freshman year, so I’ll highlight just one main point today. More tomorrow, of course!

I found out quickly how different college classes are than high school classes. In high school, we’d have several tests per semester, a few quizzes, and some easy homework to turn in. In college, there were three exams. If you messed even part of one of them up, you’d already be knocked down to a B for the whole semester. (I had over a 4.0 in high school, so grade expectations were pretty high for college. Oh, and that scholarship I mentioned? That was also GPA-dependent.)

What I also found out is that I wasn’t so smart after all. Pitt has this program — the University Honors College. So I took a chemistry course through it. It didn’t give you any extra boost to your GPA — like an AP course in high school — but it would look nice on your transcript. And remember, medical school! So I’m in this class, and I really don’t understand a damn thing they’re talking about. I’m reading the book (whenever I can) and still don’t get it. Naturally the thing to do would be to approach the teacher and ask for help. Not gonna happen. I stutter. Approach someone else in the class and try to form a study group? Yeah, also not going to happen. But that’s ok! I’ll suck it up and figure it out on my own. Right. Go figure quantum mechanics out on your own. Good luck with that.

I had heard that the path to success was to sit in the front row and ask questions. That was a joke, right? And they had these lovely after-class sort of sessions — those recitations. You’re with a smaller group and can get help with your homework and talk to the professor or her teaching assistant. I’d go to some of these off and on, but I found the idea of asking a question that I already knew the answer to sort of stupid. Naturally I sat in the back of most of my classes and didn’t utter a word.

With regards to stuttering, the real problem wasn’t class participation — there wasn’t a need for that in 200 and 300-student lecture halls — but the fear of asking for help.

Looking back I think the biggest contributions to a really lousy first semester (academically) were the lack of a study group and the idea that I already knew what was going to be covered in a class.

I strongly believe that if someone who stutters goes to college, they should sit down with some kind of “mentor” who either has just gone through college or is going through it — and has a stutter. The mentor would force the student to review what did and didn’t work in high school, and how that would (or would not) translate to college. Also, to encourage the student to talk to the professors privately about the stutter (an e-mail would be fine as well). For example, such a mentor would have pointed out to me that if I had a strong core of friends who are taking the same classes, would I have such a thing in college? No? Then how would I go about making those friends if I had a stutter? The classes are pretty big, and there’s a lot of change from one to another. I distinctly remember on several occasions thinking that I had gone to too big of a school.

How bad was I at making friends in my classes? To this day (13 years on) I only talk to two people who I met in a biology class. (the other college friends who I still talk to were met through other activities which I’ll get to later).

The worst part is that I only realized toward the end of college that a lack of friends in my core courses was really hurting me — since I was afraid of going to professors for help. Even after getting that first report card, I didn’t sit down and think, Ok, what’s going on here? I was doing so well in high school, so what’s the big disconnect?

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