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A Guide to Personal Space in College

It’s a little sad that we even had to make this list.

Preserving Your Bubble

It’s a little sad that we even had to make this list.

By Jessinta Smith, Suffolk Community College

Personal space is one of those things in life that you should give people until they say they don’t want it.

Besides a handshake at first meeting, one should assume that others are uninterested in your physical contact. This is especially true in the United States, where intimacy among the non-consanguineous is uncommon and borders on indecency. Early on, Americans are taught that proper etiquette when meeting a stranger necessitates a handshake, but that’s pretty much where the comfort zones of most people end. Unless you’re with family or friends, you’re to keep touching to a minimum.

A Guide to Personal Space in College

When you get to college, that concept goes to shit. It could be the cultural diversity of college campuses, the fact that students haven’t fully matured yet, or maybe it’s just because some people look at other students as friends, not strangers.

Whatever the reason, a lot of students seem to be unable to recognize personal space, and this must be stopped. Uninvited touching/handling is weird, annoying, and, because you don’t know where someone’s hands have been, really gross.

So, to help anyone who has trouble recognizing personal space offenses, here are five lessons about inappropriate touching I’ve learned in college.

The Situation: My very first semester I was excited and happy, a bit like a puppy. I walked into my Psych 101 course bubbling with joy, ready to learn some interesting shit about the brain, and I did. It was a great class, and I actually met my best friend in it. But, I also experienced my first encounter with a personal space invader.

I should preface this by saying that I abhor germs and body odor, and the individual seated behind me was both dirty and smelly. I decided to suck it up though, and I managed to get through class. That’s until it happened.

I was talking to my future best friend when I felt someone jab their finger between my shoulder blades. What the FUCK, who does that to get someone’s attention? I whipped around to the girl behind me, and listened as she began commenting on our conversation. Eventually, her finger in my spinal column became a recurring theme of that semester. I hated it and it made everyone uncomfortable.

The Rule: Do not poke classmates to get their attention. Cough, put your hand up—hell, even interrupt with your opinion, but do not poke classmates as a means to join conversations. It’s uncomfortable. When you poke in between someone’s shoulder blades it hurts. Also, that someone is a stranger. Don’t do it.

The Situation: Depending on where you live in the country, the distance between you and a conversant that you need in order to feel comfortable is different. In New York, where I live, most people prefer a sizable gap between themselves and their partner in dialogue, but in general most Americans want between three and ten feet separating them.

This information should be plastered on signs throughout college campuses and blared over loudspeakers in a perpetual PSA.

Some students I know enjoy standing so close to you when they’re speaking that if they gleek you’ll end up wet, which is a bummer because people generally don’t want a stranger’s fucking saliva on them.

Also, no matter how fastidious you are in terms of dental hygiene, the odds are stacked against you having good breath at a given moment. Unless someone has just brushed their teeth (and used Listerine), I want nothing to do with the smell of their words.

The Rule: Stand at least two feet away from strangers, and try not to spit. If you do accidentally gleek a little while speaking, at least you’ll be far enough away that they won’t have to change their shirt.

The Situation: This past semester, a boy sat behind me who rejected the concept of personal space altogether, and decided that the heel on my shoe was a great foot rest. His breach of my bubble was the most irritating invasion of space I’ve experienced to date.

Getting poked in the back is bothersome, but an unwelcome game of history class footsie is distracting to the point of malice. Because no one else noticed his foot all up on my heel, I couldn’t really turn around and ask him what his problem was. But, without fail, he would begin every class by searching for the virgin feet under my desk, before proceeding to use them as his personal resting spot.

Note: This isn’t the same as accidentally kicking the person in front of you, because even the best of us do that. This is deciding that another human’s foot is there for your paws to grope and grind on, but be warned—uninvited footsie is gross and wrong, and the foot you’re molesting has every right to curb stomp your big toe.

The Rule: Keep all limbs, including feet, to yourself. If you fail to follow through with this rule, you alone are responsible for the stomping of your toes. Forced foot grinding shall not be tolerated, and appropriate actions to stop said grinding will be taken if necessary. Occasional, accidental kicking is permitted as long as an apology is offered.

The Situation: A great way to avoid accidental kicking is by separating desks. Devious janitors seem to get a kick out of pushing desks disgustingly close together, which can lead to a lot of uncomfortable invasions.

I have very long hair, so I try to separate desks in order to keep my hair from getting in other peoples’ way. If separation is impossible, I put my hair up so it doesn’t shed on (thick hair sheds, it’s gross), or hit someone. So if you’re like me, make sure to arrive to class early and push your desk a little bit forward if possible.

The Rule: Push desks apart to grant others more room whenever possible. If you don’t you’re not necessarily being rude, but you are denying your classmates a more enjoyable, relaxed classroom experience.

The Other Rule: If obeying rule four is impossible, be wary of all body parts—hair and elbows especially. Put your hair up if you need to in order to avoid hitting your neighbor with your luscious locks. This is essentially line one of rule three repackaged.

Those are the top five rules for keeping college comfortable. Know your body, know that most people want space and keep your bits to yourself until you are told otherwise. Keep everyone comfortable, and make college a little less shitty.


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