When Melanie Campbell found out her freshman year would be held virtually, she signed up for any student organizations that fit her interests.
Campbell put her name down for GW Balance, the Student Association, GW College Democrats and the GW Choir, hoping to make friends remotely. She said those connections helped her find upperclassmen mentors and freshmen peers who share her interests, and she’s held on to those connections heading into an online spring semester.
“I thought I might as well, even if we’re not on campus, try to join as much stuff as I can now so once we are eventually on campus I’m already integrated in the community,” she said.
In interviews, freshmen said they’ve joined group messages and student organizations through the fall to make up for a lacking college experience. They said social media has helped them find their niche and meet other first-year students in person who live nearby or in the DMV.
Charlene Richards, a prospective political science and journalism major, said she’s used the Class of 2024 Instagram page to find friends, sometimes messaging peers who are posted on the page to chat.
Richards said she also keeps in touch with her class through her role as a freshman representative for the SA. She said she helped publish a survey last semester asking the freshmen class to share their experiences with online learning and whether they would perform better academically if they were taking classes in person.
“A lot of students said they felt disconnected from [the] University,” Richards said. “They wanted the option to get on campus, to get out of their home environment and to feel like a community and not a number. When you’re at home and you have to look at a screen all day, it’s hard to get connected with your peers, make friends and have a social life.”
Ashley Standard, a prospective biology major from the DMV, said she hasn’t joined any student organizations because she won’t be able to meet any of them in person.
“I have not even touched a club yet,” Standard said. “There’s no point in getting into a club if I’m not going to meet anyone.”
Instead, she said she joined District Scholars, a GW program that connects students from the DMV with mentors, where she found a friend.
“You get this adviser, and you meet up every week on a certain day, like a class,” Standard explained. “I met one friend from there, and we are in the same class too, so we talk almost all the time.”
Tobias Williams, a prospective international economics major and member of the men’s soccer team, said he lived on campus last semester. He said because so few students live on campus, he ended up using Instagram and Snapchat to connect with people and meet up if they happened to live in D.C.
“I ended up interacting with a good amount of people just online and having connections over like Zoom and stuff,” Williams said. “And some of the people in D.C. got to meet up and like check out the monuments and that sort of thing, and that was fun and a good time.”
Evelyn Hoyer, a freshman in the Elliot School of International Affairs, said she found community through her involvement in Naval ROTC, which also allowed her to live on campus fall semester. Hoyer said she met many of her friends in person and spent time going out to eat or walking around the city.
“The strongest connections were definitely in person,” said Hoyer.
Hoyer added that she made friends through a GroupMe chat originally posted on the Class of 2024 Facebook group. With technology and social media, making friends was only slightly more difficult than usual in the first year of college, she said.
“We all joined, and then it just kept getting smaller and smaller until finally I ended up in a group chat where it was 12 people,” Hoyer said. “That basically became the friend group.”
Emma Reese said she lived at her home in Fredericksburg, Virginia, during the fall semester but just moved onto campus for the spring after walking onto the GW women’s rowing team.
While at home, Reese said she made some of her closest friends through freshmen group chats that started when students got their acceptances last spring. One of the friends she made is her current roommate, who was a member of the rowing team and encouraged her to walk on to the team.
Reese said she was involved in one of these large group chats for admitted students and ended up connecting with a group of people who all wanted to start a book club on campus before GW announced the fall semester would be held online.
“We just ended up becoming really good friends, and then we would slowly add people from the main chat who we just felt that we vibe with,” she said. “That’s how we built the friend group.”