First-Years Learn to Make Connections During COVID-19


Harrison Hartman Photo credit: Kate Nuelle

Adjusting to college is already difficult enough for first-year students. The beauty of being a first-year pre-pandemic, particularly during the first month, is that it has proven one of the few moments in our lives where we can go up to a complete group of strangers, sit down and try to become friends without being given an odd look or two. Now, during the time of COVID-19, going out and meeting new people is not safe. Those “meet cute” moments where you find your people are hard enough to find yourself in even without a pandemic and now, they are even more difficult when you’re limited in deciding where you can go and who you can spend time with.

First-year Caitlin Huisman said, “it’s really easy to meet people, but it’s really hard to make friends.”

The first-years are dealing with two major issues: forming connections in a completely new place and learning to adjust to college rigor.

“The idea of the college experience, I was frightened I wasn’t going to get that,” said first-year Jordan Nelson. “It’s similar to what I thought it would be, but when things become normal, the social aspect will return more than it is now.”

With classes primarily online for a lot of students and the dining hall’s strict seating policies and social distancing rules across campus, first-years are still searching for their place on campus.

Harrison Hartman, a first-year hoping to major in environmental studies, seconded, “I’m from a very small town, so there wasn’t much concern [about COVID], so it was a little anxiety-provoking, especially the first couple of days because I was on my own.”

Isolation has seemed to be a common feeling during the move-in weekend before anyone has had the opportunity to make friends.

“I guess as things have settled, it becomes a lot better once you get the chance to scope out the area; the anxiety goes down a little bit,” Hartman said.

For some, coming to campus gave people more control over their health.

“I knew it was a calculated risk, but I knew I would be so depressed at home. Plus, I’m from a split household. There’s always people coming in and out,” Huisman said.

First-year students have been able to take control of their physical and mental health while living on campus.

“I was concerned about moving onto campus; I’m on a sports team, and I know that I should be here for my commitments. I’m being as safe as I can, and I’m taking the precautions necessary to keep everybody safe too,” Nelson said.

In a time when on-campus students have to prioritize personal and public health, first-years are navigating how to form new connections without putting each other at risk.

First-years are relying on traditional and less conventional ways of making friends on campus. Nelson has joined clubs like Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the philosophy club to meet new people. Clubs meeting online and making their activities COVID safe is making it possible for people to meet each other.

Huisman says activities through Trinity University Players (TUPS) have been the best way to form real bonds with people. Trinity organizations have the ability to connect people outside the classroom in a way that is safe for students.

“I’ve met people because we live in the same hall or by chance,” Hartman said.

Some first-years came onto campus with friendships already established because the class of 2024 used group chats to meet new people and form connections.

“[The group chat] is so nice; every time there is something people can be invited to, they do it…of course, in a safe way, though,” Hartman said.

Social media has proved an excellent tool to try to reach out to new people, and the class of 2024 has taken advantage.

The first year of college is meant to be a time of exploration academically and personally. People begin to understand their values and who their true friends are.

Huisman said, “actually establishing a strong bond and connection is much more difficult, so the first two weeks, it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, I know so many people;’ then it just teeters off; then you realize, ‘Oh, I don’t really know anyone.’”

Leaning into our communities is what pulls us through difficult times like these. But what about the young adultswho have been thrown into a completely new environment and are scrambling to make the best out of it?

As the school year progresses, students are hoping to fall into safe spaces and find people that they can befriend long-term.