The changing meaning of friendship in an era of uncertainty
The culture surrounding American college campus life is largely centered around sociability and forging relationships. Amidst rigorous classes, uncovering career paths and learning to deal with a newfound sense of independence, making friends remains a top priority amongst college students, especially incoming freshmen like myself. Before arriving on campus—and before a world with coronavirus—relatives, friends, and other college alumni advised me to make friends through ways that are no longer promised in a pandemic. In a college environment where I can’t sit by people in a dining hall, hang out with friends in student organizations, or ask the person next to me for their name in class, how am I supposed to make friends?
It’s no secret that online classes have served as a hindrance to the social experience. In a 9am Zoom discussion, students can’t grab breakfast together or make small talk before class. Instead, we wake up five minutes beforehand and exasperatedly sit in our rooms, trying to muster enough energy to get through the next hour. Sometimes, breakout rooms are the most personal social interaction that we get during a class, and the biggest adrenaline rush of the day is trying to get everyone’s social media handles before the sixty second countdown ends and we return to the main session. In asynchronous classes, making friends doesn’t even seem attainable. Unless you know somebody in the class beforehand, it’s incredibly difficult to meet people in classes that have pre-recorded lectures.
Luckily, Gen Z is already well versed in technology, and the reliance on social media to meet new people suits our strengths. Although I’m living here on campus, I would have never met some of my closest friends had I not previously messaged them through Instagram or Snapchat. For several of my friends who are completing their semester from home, their social connections are derived solely from group chats and other forms of instant messaging. Even then, these “friends” remain faceless entities with only an avatar and a nametag to identify them.
Of course, social distancing regulations are necessary—but it’s undeniable that these regulations take a toll on creating connections. Most tables in public study spaces have a capacity of one, meaning you can’t even sit by your roommate. In a world where we all must remain six feet apart from each other at all times, interacting with others can feel a bit awkward, especially when you have to keep backing up to ensure you’re interacting at a safe distance. Even when trying to speak to others in in-person classes, you must sit at least six seats away and almost yell at the other person just so they can hear you.
The obstacles being presented to us have in many ways hindered our already tumultuous social experience, and this is the only way that us freshmen have ever undergone college life. The experiences that captured us in every movie growing up—depicting the wonders of the campus experience—aren't attainable anymore. However, it’s important to remember that everyone is making a sacrifice in one way or another, and the sooner we maintain careful practices to reduce positive cases, the sooner we can finally live the college life that we’re all here for. However, the uncertainty of academia’s future is large, and despite our best collective efforts, there’s no guarantee that we’ll get the happy ending that we all want.