Then-freshman Sasha Hinckley felt like she had finally formed a friend group at GW when the COVID-19 pandemic cut her first year short.
Suddenly, Hinckley found herself isolated from her peers and back in her childhood bedroom in Newport, Rhode Island, where she struggled to remain connected with the friends she had made her first year. Hinckley said she lacked time to establish roots at the University, and as remote learning began, she struggled to connect with peers online and make up for the time she lost on campus.
“A lot of college students across the country are feeling distanced from their school and separated,” Hinckley said. “I don’t think that it was a bad decision to go virtual. It’s a decision that’s made by what’s happening in our world. But it definitely is difficult for college students.”
In interviews, about half a dozen sophomores said staying connected with their established friend groups and student organizations has been “difficult” because they had less time to establish firm roots with their peers as freshmen. Students said they’ve had to put more effort into maintaining the relationships they built during their first year without having formed a firm group, making them feel less a part of the GW community.
“Earlier today, I was asking a professor to write a recommendation letter for me,” Hinckley said. “And I was thinking about how I’d only known this professor over Zoom and then was thinking about how disconnected I felt from professors. It’s definitely a different experience.”
Zhana Murataj, an accounting major, said studying from Washington Township, New Jersey, last semester felt like she was “back to a high school kind of life,” after a year of being independent in D.C. last year. She said at some points last semester, she forgot what college was like because she lacked time to make memories on campus.
“I almost forgot what college was all about and how it was, so it definitely made me more distant,” Murataj said. “At some point, I felt like I didn’t even go to GW. I was just doing these manual classes online and just getting A’s or the best I could get.”
She said she has had trouble staying in contact with friends she made freshman year who are all juggling their own lives outside of GW and relate less to her life now. She said as a more introverted person, she has struggled to meet new friends online, despite being almost halfway through her college experience.
Murataj said after the University announced online instruction would continue for the spring semester, she decided to apply for on-campus housing and is currently living in Shenkman Hall. She said she had convinced herself returning to campus would be a “return to normalcy” but has yet to make any new friends or go on the “D.C. adventures” she had dreamed about to limit exposure to COVID-19.
“I feel everyone can relate to this – the friends you make freshman year aren’t really going to be your friends forever,” Murataj said. “You go through people because you just grow out of it, or maybe they don’t represent you as well as you would hope. It’s been like losing friends and also really hard to make friends.”
Madison Dorsey, an international affairs major, said her in-person freshman year was “fantastic” living in Hensley Hall on the Mount Vernon Campus. She said living in the 30-person residence hall helped her build a strong community among her peers and memorable experiences, like having daily dinners at Pelham Commons.
But she said since beginning her sophomore year, she has felt disconnected from student groups she formed her first year. Having her friends from the Vern to text with daily has helped with easing her isolation, she said.
“We would go to dinner every night and talk about our days, talk about our classes, just anything,” she said. “I just miss having a sense of community. Mostly now I just feel like it’s me versus the computer. There’s nothing there.”
Chris Wright, a finance and international business major, said he has been studying in Keyport, New Jersey, for the last 11 months. He said he spent his first year getting used to GW and joining organizations and had hoped to make more friends his sophomore year when he was fully comfortable on campus.
Wright said he mostly misses being able to hang out with his friends and have the possibility of meeting a wide range of people.
“I definitely miss hanging out with them, going to the monuments at night and doing fun things, like going to Pentagon City mall,” Wright said.
He said that he stays connected with the student organizations he joined like the Real Estate & Finance Alliance and the GW Black Men’s Initiative, but he has been less active than if he would have been a part of the group for more than a year. He said he took a year off from GW Mock Trial, which he had joined and was looking forward to participating in as a sophomore.
“The courtroom presence and things like that are just not available through Zoom,” Wright said. “For me, it was a big deal breaker to not actually do these cases in an actual room against other schools.”