College During COVID-19: Finding Community When Classes Are Online

It’s probably safe to say that 2020 has been a difficult year for almost everyone. While we have all been living through the COVID-19 pandemic for months now, each person’s experience differs in how it has impacted their life. For me, it meant that I moved out of the dorms and back home for Spring Quarter. It also meant that I moved into my first apartment back in Davis this fall under circumstances that were far from ideal. It also meant that the September Orientation Leader job that I accepted back in February was completely virtual. As I got to know the new students in my group during the week of orientation, I discovered that while some of them were living a vastly modified dorm experience, and some were starting college from their childhood bedrooms, one aspect united them all: they were worried. 

Balcony concerts during COVID pandemic United Nations COVID-19 Response from Unsplash Honestly, I don’t blame them. I’m grateful for the technology that allows us to safely continue our education during the pandemic and wildfires, but I hated remote classes during Spring Quarter. As a result, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about Fall Quarter either, especially when I was starting classes that would probably be difficult for me in person, let alone online. Yet new students have had additional barriers this year, especially when it comes to finding friends and community while navigating a virtual college experience. Students living in campus dorms at UC Davis are in single rooms, with empty beds where roommates would have been if circumstances were different. Study lounges are closed, and dining halls are pick-up only. Students at home are likely to save money on housing and have a much lower risk of coming in contact with COVID-19, but they feel socially isolated and miss out on the perks of being on-campus.

Pexels Hearing these perspectives from the new students in my orientation group drove me to reflect, I thought about aspects of my spring quarter at home that helped me stay connected to other students. Many clubs and student organizations quickly moved to virtual meetings, including my HerCampus chapter, and attending virtual events where I could have small conversations with people helped boost my mood. For new students, taking the step to get involved with new campus organizations may be especially difficult. It is important to remember that attending a virtual meeting does not commit you for the next four years, and if you don’t vibe with it, try a different one! I also have found that following clubs I am interested in on social media helps me decide if I could potentially get along with the people in the club. Another tactic that has helped me meet new people is joining Discords and GroupMes when people put them in the chat during Zoom classes. This also allowed me to ask my classmates questions about the class when I needed to. To be honest, I barely talked to my classmates during in-person classes, especially when the class had more than 200 people, so this was actually an improvement for me.

Another piece of advice that is probably the scariest: turn on your camera in breakout rooms. That’s right. Turn it on, and actually talk. I didn’t start doing this until late spring quarter, because I was terrified of interrupting the silence in breakout rooms where no one said anything the entire time. However, saying something allows other people to feel more comfortable talking to you. Even if something embarrassing happens, like your video freezes mid-yawn, you will probably never see these people in person, so there’s really nothing to lose.

Finding a community is a long process. As a second-year student, I still find myself struggling with it at times. While virtual classes make it even more challenging, I try to tell myself that there is no deadline for meeting new people. If it doesn’t come easily remotely, then you can always get involved later when classes are back in-person. Right now, the most important thing is to take care of your mental health and maintain the relationships you already have with the people you care about. Facetime your friends, hang out with your family, and hope for the best.