Advice for Awkward People

Dear Sarah,

I've been on campus a few weeks now. I'm starting to recognize familiar faces here and there, I know how to get to all of my classes. But something else I've become familiar with is the distressing amount of bare feet that I've seen all over campus.

Recently during one of my classes in a lecture hall, this guy sat down right next to me and put his bare feet up on the seat in front of us. No matter how hard I tried to focus on the lecture and taking notes, all I could think about were his feet. He had yucky yellow toenails that hadn't been trimmed for weeks, and with his hairy toes all spread apart on the chair's hard back, I could see all of the toe cheese. It legitimately detracted from my learning.

And this is just one of many instances. I see people with their dirty toes up on study tables, walking across the Pausch bridge, waiting for the elevator.

Don't they think about all of the gross things living on the chair, the floor, or the sidewalk? Doesn't it hurt to walk around on all kinds of surfaces without the protection of footwear? How much dirt do they have to scrape off in the shower? Do they even shower?

Carnegie Mellon has been a pretty significant culture shock for me, and I think I've adjusted well for the most part. But this widespread insistence on barefootedness is just too much for me to understand, let alone accept. Is there something we can do about this? Maybe a poster campaign?

Feeling Overtly Obnoxiously Terrorized Finding Really Egregious Toe Showing Shoeless Hooligans


You are certainly right that Carnegie Mellon can be a culture shock. Here we have an assortment of people unlike any other in the world. We usually apply this diversity to geography, but it's also important to consider the diversity of personalities, opinions, lifestyles, and ideologies.

There are going to be times when you come in contact with people that you will just never agree with, and that can be a frustrating experience. But it's also an important part of going to college. The guy in your class and the countless other barefooted oddballs are part of that experience. It's his right to choose whether or not to wear shoes, and your discomfort doesn't change that. He's probably not even sorry. But it is also your right to sit somewhere else next time.

However, college is all about pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. It's easy to walk around ignoring everything that makes you uncomfortable. But what will that teach you? How will you grow?

The real challenge is to embrace what is foreign to you, understand it, and accept it. This is one of the most important gifts Carnegie Mellon can offer us.

If it really super grosses you out, then maybe this isn't your opportunity for growth and you should just try to focus on your lecture. But walk around campus with a spirit of open-mindedness that will help you to understand other points of view.