With the University’s announcement that the start of in-person instruction will be delayed until Feb. 8, some students are posting their class schedules on Facebook to connect with online classmates.
Some first-years like K’Shayla Richardson — who experienced just a few weeks on campus in the fall — find it challenging to form connections with classmates who they have never seen beyond a computer screen.
“It's kind of hard to talk to people, if you have never seen them face to face, by texting them or maybe even talking to them on the phone,” Richardson said.
Finding familiar faces in Zoom classes is just one of many ways students are coping with the isolation created by remote learning.
Richardson said she has connected with people on Snapchat and Instagram, and expects more concrete plans for study groups or Zoom calls will follow the first day of classes.
Junior Olivia Bornkessel said she has talked to a few people in her classes so far. She has never seen so many people sharing their schedules over social media, she said.
“Normally it's not like, ‘OK, classes are out, everyone post your classes,'” Bornkessel said. “Usually people will have friends in their classes or they'll make friends through in-person because it's so much easier. You don't feel the need to post online to make online friends.”
Bornkessel said she added posting her schedule to her to-do list as soon as she noticed dozens of similar posts in her social media feed daily.
“I'm kind of a niche student,” Bornkessel said. “Not many people I know are in my classes, so I was like, 'If there's any way to try to make friends in my classes, this is the way.'”
First-year biology major Riley Pingree also posted her schedule on Facebook the week before the first day of class. She said the responses she has received so far leave her optimistic about future opportunities to study and connect with her classmates. This is something that largely wasn't possible during the fall semester, Pingree said.
“I think everybody's just craving human interaction,” Pingree said. “We’re not even looking if we have friends that have classes in common. I think we're just looking for absolutely anyone.”
Many students who feel they’ve been missing out socially have turned to UNC Counseling and Psychological Services, psychologist Erinn Scott said. She said the CAPS program saw increased student use last semester.
“I'm definitely noticing lots and lots of isolation – lots of students reporting feeling anxious, maybe for the first time, depression and just sort of this hopelessness of, ‘When is this going to end?’” Scott said.
Developing relationships with classmates can be highly important for academic development through discussion and feedback, she said.
“I think there's something about the cohort effect, which is having kind of a group of your peers going through a similar experience at the same time, that's just really powerful,” Scott said.
Students are finding something resembling a cohort by using social media trends and building class communities on platforms such as Facebook and GroupMe.
“I think Facebook is honestly one of the most underrated resources,” Bornkessel said. “Having those places that you can ask questions, talk to other UNC students and have just this plethora of knowledge from people who have such a different UNC experience – it's just one of the best things.”
Although it may be a more unconventional way of meeting classmates, students are willing to do what it takes to make connections.
“I think everyone just needs someone, and we're trying to find it however possible,” Pingree said. “And if this is how we're going to do it, that’s how we're going to do it.”
Scott described this latest effort by students as a sign of resilience.
"'They are making lemonade out of lemons by creating connections however they can," Scott said.
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