Junior Jolt: Establishing Human Connection Could Not Be More Important Right Now
Why we shouldn’t underestimate it and how to cultivate it during a socially distanced semester.
August 30, 2020
In my first Visions session, I asked my VUceptees to create “life maps,” including a “why Vandy” slide. I was touched when multiple first-years cited Vandy’s welcoming and supportive community-feel as their main reason for attending. Hearing how deeply they had felt the friendships, supportive networks and deep human connections on campus was a wake-up call for me.
The day before my Visions session throughout move-in, I was both surprised and excited to see so many people. Like (hopefully!) all of you, I’d been staying mainly at home for about five months and had almost forgotten what it felt like to be surrounded (at a distance of course) by people. While I enjoyed living out my best hermit life during quarantine, being back on campus interacting with peers, professors and the general Vandy community has been the breath of fresh air I didn’t know I needed.
Even simple things like walking by other students, or being able to sit in a classroom once again, even though it’s a bit strange to see your professor wearing a face shield and standing in front of various cameras, has reminded me of the importance of human connection. Given that most of us have some online courses, and most organizational activity is online this semester, I think it’s particularly challenging to find and establish human connection this year.
And by human connection, I mean really feeling like you’re a part of a community. While becoming a part of a community and finding the specific spaces you feel the most comfortable being a part of takes time, we can all take important first steps toward integrating ourselves, and others into the Vandy community. Grabbing a socially distanced meal, meeting new friends virtually or getting to know your professors during Zoom office hours are all ways to introduce yourself to others and start building relationships. Being forced to self-isolate during COVID-19 has really instilled in me an appreciation for human connection, which is such a vital part of not only the human experience, but the college experience.
I admit that feeling like you’re shouting just to be heard when talking with a mask can be frustrating, and that online orientation isn’t the best way to get to know someone. All of us have limited opportunities to meet and casually chat with each other. We’re being encouraged by walkway directional stickers, squirrel flyers and watchful staff members to be as far away from each other as possible. But, even with physical distance limitations, we don’t have to give up on forming meaningful relationships with each other. In fact, I think making sure that everyone in our community (on campus and off) feels genuine human connection should be one of our top priorities. When we feel isolated and lonely, it’s easier to become overwhelmed and pessimistic about everything going on, and it’s on all of us to spread the love and support during this time.
I know this may not be something that’s on everyone’s heart or priority list. But, most of felt robbed last semester when we were abruptly torn away from the many lasting relationships we’ve built here. As we head into this unique school year, I encourage you to remember how that felt and work to prevent it from happening again. If we can keep up with current friends, seek new connections and follow protocol, we’ll have more time to form the connections that make the undergrad experience such a cherished one.