While finding new friends during the first year of college is a formidable task in itself, amid a pandemic, it may seem a nearly impossible pursuit. Despite this, many members of the class of 2024 have managed to overcome social obstacles through the use of online platforms beyond the Zoom classroom.
Numerous pages and groups dedicated to acquainting the class of 2024 have appeared on platforms like Instagram and Facebook. In the context of a fully virtual university, these social media sites have become critical resources to navigating the new social landscape of UNC.
Ryan Phillips, a first-year student from Fairfax, Virginia, said that most of the people he has met are from Facebook groups, as well as various group chats from his Carolina Away classes.
He said he believes social media has become more prominent in the wake of a virtual semester.
“Like any other year, there are Facebook groups and that sort of thing that I've connected to people with, but these methods are more significant now than they have been in previous years,” Phillips said.
In addition to social media, the popular messaging app GroupMe has emerged as a useful and convenient method for first-years to bridge the gap between academic and social communication.
Abbie Renberg, a first-year from Raleigh, said that the class of 2024 GroupMe has allowed for the creation of smaller groups to play the game Among Us.
“We use Discord to talk during the game, and since the game is based around discussion and social deduction, it lets us talk to each other and connect,” Renberg said.
Extracurricular organizations are also utilizing online games like Among Us as a means to engage with potential new members.
Madi Marks, a first-year from Charlotte, said she recently attended a Zoom game night hosted by the Greek Music Council at UNC that included skribbl.io, Cards Against Humanity, Among Us, and Jackbox Games.
Despite the abundance of innovative and engaging online communication platforms, the prospect of befriending strangers solely online is not without its drawbacks.
Phillips said that although online interaction is a convenient method of meeting new people, he believes his social circle has been limited by exclusively virtual communication.
“I’ve met some people that I would say I'm friends with now, but I definitely feel like I would have a larger on-campus circle of people if it were a normal semester,” Phillips said.
As a student forced to relocate from an on-campus dorm, Marks said that the majority of the people she communicates with are from her short-lived campus experience.
“While I was on campus, we’d have lunch in our little group, hang out at the bell tower, and play cards and stuff with our masks on," she said. "If I'm being completely honest, I think the only reason that I really stayed in contact with the friends I’ve made this year is because we met in person."
For many first-years, the beginning of a genuine Carolina experience may seem like a sadly distant reality. Even with the abundance of online communication, virtual friendships are just a teasing glimpse into the active and dynamic campus life UNC has to offer.
“It's disappointing as you would expect, but I think the beginning of on campus college is going to still be the beginning regardless of whether it happens in my freshman year, my sophomore year, or any other time,” Phillips said.
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