Essay: Students should seek out more connections with one another to unite campus

My anthropology professor often encourages small group discussions during my 100-person lecture, but instead of talking during these breaks, many of my classmates sit staring at their laptops or phones. I’ll scan the room and see the tops of heads looking down at their screens instead of faces, and sometimes I too fall into this habit of silence. While keeping to ourselves is not bothering anybody, it can overlook one of the most crucial parts of college – the formation of new relationships with others – whether those last a minute or a lifetime.

In the rare circumstance that I would briefly chat with other students about class material or miscellaneous topics, I felt better about myself and my mood improved. Taking a few minutes to talk with a stranger creates comfort amid the hustle of college life and even fostered many of my friendships in various classes. Students should interact with one another more in classes, residence halls and student organization meetings to unite our campus.

This semester in my comparative politics class of about 40 students, we were given the choice between a group and individual project. Although I was more interested in the focus of the group research assignment on either COVID-19 or climate change responses, I immediately prepared to complete the individual project because I didn’t know many students in my class and never considered contacting students I hadn’t met. Reaching out felt daunting because my class didn’t typically talk before or after class time. Why would they want to work with a stranger? I feared rejection from students I had never met and was planning to sacrifice my own interest in a project to account for a disappointing social expectation.

But as of a few weeks ago, I was still interested in the group project and felt more motivated to work on it. Maybe it was the fact that we were five weeks from the semester’s end or I couldn’t wait to research COVID-19 or climate change, but for a moment, I stopped fearing this idea of social rejection. I let my classmates know via GroupMe that I’d love to form a group with anyone interested, and shortly after, I was in a group with three classmates whom I had never met before.

While the disconnect between my classmates may seem minor, it helped me realize that I, along with other students, should make a stronger effort to meet and get to know my peers in the classroom. Meeting new people in classes and student organizations makes me happier and more comfortable at GW. People often refrain from speaking to their classmates due to the impression that students are uninterested in socializing. New Student Orientation is far past, and randomly reaching out to others feels less socially acceptable. Wearing masks indoors because of the pandemic makes socialization even more difficult. It can be intimidating to initiate friendships through conversation instead of smiling. But small conversations are the only way to show one another we’re interested in connecting.

Our generation is also wrapped up in daily social media usage, which can hinder social interactions and increase anxiety with more in-person interaction. I often rely on my phone to shield a feeling of vulnerability around people I’ve never met. When I see students in my classes and meetings on their phones during times of expected socialization, I assume they might be doing the same. Family care specialists have found that being accustomed to talking with others electronically can make it more difficult to communicate in person. The pandemic has exacerbated this issue – many teenagers, like myself, have increased their screen time during the past two years with reduced in-person contact with one another.

GW is the largest university in D.C. with an undergraduate student population of about 12,000 students and nearly 16,000 graduate students. With such a large campus community, fostering unity is vital. 

While we can achieve unity through support for our sports teams or attendance at exciting University events, we can also facilitate camaraderie daily in our classrooms. Students can meet others through conversation in classes, residence halls and student organization meetings. Talking to new people beyond a roommate or preexisting friend can help ease anxiety. Additionally, spending less time looking down at your phone in social situations, which is something I also need to work on, can show others that you’re interested in socializing. Make eye contact with your peers and find common interests to lessen any initial nerves. Greet the person sitting next to you, compliment their outfit or crack a joke. 

The student body at GW has the potential for more unity through stronger relationships with one other. At a city campus full of independent-minded students, it can be easy to feel alone or overwhelmed, even when many other students feel the same. Talking with more students outside of your typical friend group can ramp up school spirit and break down the traditional barrier between strangers. Although we’ve faced challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and social media use, we have the capability to make the GW community a little friendlier and more unified. Talk to a stranger in a class whether through a compliment or a casual greeting. Your interaction can brighten someone’s day.

Mia Adams, a freshman majoring in political science, is an opinions writer.

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