As any philosophy student at the University of St. Thomas might tell you, it was Aristotle who insisted that humans are social creatures. As the pandemic continues to keep much of the country apart, however, one wonders what happens to students forced into lengthy periods of isolation.
UST President Richard Ludwick has continued to emphasize the importance of maintaining social connection in his campus-wide emails, even if that requires new approaches.
In an email to the students on Sept. 11 Ludwick wrote, “Challenged by a global pandemic and driven by our desire for community, we have adapted, changed and reconnected, finding each other in new ways and in previously unexplored places.”
Jamise Wilson wrote an article on the Affordable Colleges Online website that gives tips to college students who are feeling isolated right now.
“Lonely, isolated students may struggle to complete their work on time, fail to connect with other students, or withdraw entirely from the online community,” the article read. “Isolation in online classrooms makes it difficult for students to learn from each other or feel connected with the material.”
Finding ways to connect to fellow students and staff is essential not only to mental health, but also to academic success, according to the article.
“Knowing the tools and resources available to [students] not only helps manage feelings of isolation, but it may also alleviate mental health concerns,” the author wrote. To remain connected, she suggested students connect with peers pursuing similar degrees, how far along they are on said degree, and who lives nearby.
Vern Le, a freshman nursing major at UST, spoke with the Celt Independent about how he stays involved while social distancing.
“In the beginning I was planning on in-person classes,” Le said. “I wanted my first year to be like in the movies.”
While he was admittedly disappointed at first, Le feels as though he has put in a lot of effort to stay connected and make the best of his first semester at UST. He recommends students follow UST’s social media accounts such as the UST Student Activities and UST Campus Initiatives on Instagram, which announce UST-centered social events.
From there he learned about UST’s Drive-in Movie Night, and the Drive N’ Dash, both thrown on campus by the Welcome Week Committee within UST’s pandemic safety guidelines.
“I don’t live on campus, but I was still able to attend some events in person,” Le said.
Meanwhile, Le has joined the Fillipino Student Association. They, like other UST clubs, hold Zoom meetings to discuss club content.
Le said he also uses the St. Thomas app to reach out and make new friends.
Contrary to Le, freshman Nick Cascarano, a finance major, told the Celt Independent his first experience with college was one of isolation because of COVID-19, even though he lives on campus.
“I felt isolated when I moved in, believe it or not,” Cascarano wrote in an email. “Despite being so close to and living with others, it felt so distant.”
“There is no pure interaction anymore. [COVID-19] took the life out of the college experience. Meeting new people and having joyous conversations with my friends just wasn’t the same,” Cascarano wrote.
Students who feel isolated can also reach out to UST’s counseling services. Executive Director of Counseling and Disability Services Rose Signorello said students should maintain physical distance from others but not social or emotional distance.
Signorello explained that while we should follow physical distancing rules, we should not socially distance emotionally . “Human beings are social creatures and if you’re struggling with mental health it could affect you academically,” she said.
CDS offers free and confidential services that are available to all UST students. You can learn more about CDS services and schedule an appointment here.
“You don’t need to feel depressed or be distraught in order to visit,” the website reads. “Maybe you just need help navigating your life balance or adjusting to college life. You’re not alone.”
Signorello noted that this resource is available not only for students in crisis, but for those who simply need a little human interaction, and a listening ear.
No problem is too big or too small to bring, she said; UST cares about the whole person, and asking for support and staying connected is not weakness, but a key factor to mental health and academic success.