University freshman strive to make friends amidst pandemic

By Mackenzie Stephens, Staff Writer

The lively atmosphere traditionally used to describe campus life has changed drastically over the past several months. With COVID-19’s social distancing restrictions, online classes and isolation, it feels as though the lives students once lived are in the past.

Many students have struggled to make the most of their experience back on campus after having to acclimate to a new secluded lifestyle. Some miss walking to class in a fleet of chatty students, studying late in the Undergraduate Library surrounded by their friends or spending the weekend being adventurous.

Freshmen, however, do not know the “college” experience beyond having everything held virtually. Their introduction to the University remained mostly within the walls of their dorms. Because of this, many students were left wondering how they would meet new people and make friends.

Andrew O’Connell, freshman in LAS, said he remembers feeling wary about meeting new people his first year.

“I had the impression that it would be difficult and that a lot of people, based on the virus and all that, would probably stay in their dorms,” O’Connell said. “I went in with the perception that it would definitely be more difficult than had the year been regular.”

In normal years, O’Connell said he knew many students in dorms would typically leave their doors open and attend social events to meet others. Yet, in his experience, many people tend to seclude themselves in fear of spreading or contracting COVID-19.

Another aspect of university life that many incoming freshmen wish to experience is becoming involved in organizations or clubs that spark their interest.

This year, Quad Day was held virtually and in a completely different format than in past years. Students read descriptions of the RSOs and joined zoom calls to speak with members of the clubs or organizations they found interesting.

Meenah Harbaugh, freshman in Education, mentioned that she found many organizations via virtual Quad Day that have helped her make friends and feel connected to campus.

“I’m in Best Buddies, Epsilon Delta, the Student Education Association and a sorority. All of those things have really helped me to meet new people and I’ve had a really great experience networking,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve met a bunch of different people who share my same major and have been able to talk with them over social media and in person.”

Harbaugh emphasized the importance of becoming involved in order to avoid feeling disconnected from campus and other students. She advised finding as many organizations to become involved with as possible and reaching out to students with similar interests on social media. Although reaching out to others may seem scary, she said that it can lead to lasting friendships and helps to keep up with the social scene.

Class and university-focused Facebook groups have been another great way to find like-minded others and potential friends on social media. Many students join Facebook groups once they accept their offer to attend the University to share information about themselves and begin looking for roommates.

Kira Matheson, freshman in LAS, said she had success with utilizing Facebook.

“I did meet a lot of people through the Facebook group. I found people who were in my major so I was in a group chat for that where I met people,” she said. “Then I met people that I did activities with in high school who were going to (the University). It was really about going through the feed, finding people who had things in common with me and reaching out to them.”

Although freshmen have found ways to build friendships and branch out despite COVID-19 precautions, there is not much left to do with friends on campus once they’re made. Students have expressed aggravation with being unable to find opportunities to hangout with friends, and about missing out on many events or traditions that typically come with campus-life.

O’Connell said he felt as though he has missed out on a large part of college culture. Yet, O’Connell and many others have hope for normalcy in the future and are patiently waiting for the day where they and their new friends can enjoy all aspects of the college experience.

“During college football season we would be having tailgates, going to games and hanging out with people afterward. That was one part of the college experience that a lot of people value and cherish, and we were kind of robbed of that this year,” O’Connell said.

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