By Janvier Nsengiyumva
You might have worked hard to get into college, and love the idea of college, but you might also find yourself lonely and isolated once you are in college
Erica Nwadike ‘22, said that as a student of color, she mainly surrounds herself with other students of color, and she feels detached from white students. “I feel like my white classmate or counterparts weren’t really connecting with me as how it used to be [in] Boston [where] I am surrounded with diversity. “I feel lonely when I am in class and I am like the only black student in there, especially being the black girl. Most of my classmates are dudes, and I come in and they just like “Oh there is the girl, she is a person of color and a very interesting long name, last name because I am Nigerian, they don’t know how to pronounce my last name.”
When she feels lonely, Nwadike goes out to find her friends and do something to keep herself busy. An academic journal done by Barbara Thelamour, Crystical George Mwangi, and Ijeoma Ezeofor on diversity in higher education, which is titled “we need to stick together for survival”: black college students’ racial identity, same-ethnic friendships, and campus connectedness”. They found that social belonging theory shows how the environment plays a significant role in subjective experiences of connectedness. Thus campus environments can have a harmful effect on black students feeling like they belong. This study indicates that African American and African, Caribbean and students who hold strong racial backgrounds are not as connected to their campus, although this lack of connection is even higher for African American. Thus, there is closeness among students of color or those who share similar backgrounds . Another study by Crystal Ibe at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill confirms this study, she found that black students have a higher risk of experiencing racial discrimation and exclusion. Thus, due to this anxiety being in a predominantly white campus, black students seek to help and support one another. Many psychologists agree that there are psychological difficulties that contribute to a student of color feeling lonely in classrooms while being in a predominantly white environment. Nwadike was surrounded by diversity and it was not surprising that she would find herself only connecting with students from her background because in this study, there is an emphasis on having what black faminist referred to as “safe space” for students of color. This term describes the place where marginalized students go to in order to feel safe and avoid the the “gaze and frequent prejudices of members of privileged groups”.
When Alexander Leandry arrived on campus as a first-year he too had a hard time making friends. “When I first came to campus, even after I did SOAR which was really great, I made great friends. I was very afraid when I had to talk to people because it is such a close community I was afraid to say something wrong, make a wrong joke or just not know what to say,” he explained. “So for the longest time I felt very insecure when I first came here because I was so afraid not just what other people think but how I would think of myself and if I were to become more lonely”.
Leandry felt like other students didn’t understand him and mostly felt lonely. He was unfamiliar with the students living with him. “Whenever I go back to my room because on my floor it’s just a bunch of you know sporty white kids and they all talk to each other, but whenever, I walk through they just kind of look at me and don’t say anything. I don’t connect with anyone on my floor, I don’t know a single one of their names at all”. According to Brianna Suslovic at Smith College, she studied problems concerning racial loneliness; Suslovic observes loneliness is often experienced by students of color in more intense manner, especially when they find themselves in a situation where they are “the only” or the ‘first.’ As the ‘only’ or the ‘first,’ surrounded by whiteness, feelings of ambivalence, grief, or rage in not-belonging emerge”.
Arriving at college, students are forced to make new friends and sometimes the process can cause one to feel insecure and afraid. This experience of loneliness such as being away from family and friends is common to all first year students according to a psychological study on the aspects of loneliness experienced by college students, in this study by Jerie Kull Wood, students who experience separation from home develop the feeling of doubt, confusion, and anxiety.
In our survey, we asked students to respond to the question if Saint Michael’s college is an inclusive environment. Most students expressed concerns for cliques and people being closed off and others thought it’s about finding your group. In this anonymous responds, this is what they said;
“people are unfriendly towards anyone not in their cliques”,
“it can be very clique-y and closed off socially”,
“I think depends on a lot different factors, but I do find that once people find their friends, they tend to want to stick with them and not branch out or include new”
“Depends on many factors including where you live, what class you are, what race you are”
“We say we are close-knit community, but we aren’t, the campus climate is bad and needs to change”
Only a few students in this survey said “yes” and “great” on the campus being inclusive, but most express similar concern, including for the most part the growing trend of cliques.
In asking whether they find it hard to make friends, one of them said “no because he was fortunate enough to be in a sports team” which gave him a lot of friends. Another student express the on-going concern by saying it’s impossible because too “clique and alcohol induce climate”
In the survey, students also said they often feel lonely in the Dining Hall, on the weekends, in winter or “most of the time”. What do they do about loneliness? A few said they never felt lonely , but others said they watch movie”, “try to get off campus a bit”, other students said they would isolate themselves further in their room or try to distract themselves by being productive, put their head phone on, sleep, cry, go on their phones, texts other friends, and drink. Among all the students who took the survey. In those 24 responses, 79.1 percent admitted that they felt lonely on campus and 20.83 percent said no.
Sarah Klionsky, one of personal counselors at Bergeron Wellness center agrees with the connection between social media and loneliness. She added, “Many students struggle with loneliness. It is a normal part of human life to sometimes experience loneliness. Some researchers speculate that this increase in loneliness in college students today relates to the influence of social media. We are having less face to face interactions with each other, which exacerbates feelings of loneliness”.
Often associated with the elderly, loneliness is even more prevalent among college students who are often dealing with social change and social pressure. A study by Cigna, an American worldwide health service, shows that the loneliest generation of adults is generation Z, born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s,
In the study on 48,000 undergraduate students, 64 percent responded to the 2017 college survey and reported feeling very lonely for the last past year. Thus, from those who reported feeling extremely lonely had experienced a sense of isolation.
Deborah J. Cohan, Ph.D, a sociology professor at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort, thinks that students should not spend too much perfecting loneliness, but developing tools to appreciate solitude. She observes that students are becoming more anxious, depressed and stressed out when arriving on campus. Thus, this is thinks to the lack of meaningful connection; she goes on to say that students are “sleeping with their phones, pulling their phones out when they don’t want to appear alone, texting peers and romantic interests because it’s “easier,” and their increasing discomfort and anxiety with face to face conversations all reveal this loneliness”.
There is always a solution for overcoming loneliness at Saint Michael’s College. Peter Valentine associate professor for classical and modern language and literature, “starting college in the first year is a significant transition for all students . In my first year seminar classes students often report feeling like it can be difficult at first to find new friends, or to be comfortable with their housing situation, [and] figuring out who to eat with in Alliot for lunch or dinner. “
“ Winters are long in Vermont, so it’s harder to be outside where people can gather socially if you didn’t grow up skiing or spending time outside you might not want to do those things, and then you might feel more isolated,”Vantine added. “ we have a lot of great things we can do with our phones and laptops,[but] they can also be extremely easy to keep ourselves busy with ourselves, infinite feed.” there’s actually so many interesting things going on campus, I would really encourage students to try to participate in things outside their classes”
Luke Heath, one of the counselors at Bergeron Wellness Center expanded on, “while party culture tends to be loud and can seem like fun, it’s actually quite normal for young adults to realize they would rather spend their Friday night differently. Many prefer to connect in small groups, connecting with more quest activities, etc.. The thread is that, whether it be a party or two people talking or watching a movie, people enjoy connecting with people.”
Most faculties at school agreed that because of this growing trend on loneliness, that it’s important for students or those who hold social edge to develop an open environment for those who feel lonely, by making it easier for students who are learning about friendship or relationship to integrate and transition. Thus, allowing an inclusive environment for students who present different social backgrounds–namely race, gender, and sexuality.