Those are the words of an 18-year old college freshman, relating how he felt after his first weekend at college.
He was invited to a party that first weekend, and he didn’t know anybody. So he started to drink. He drank way too much and ended up lying on a bench in his residential hall, feeling very sick. Nobody stopped and said, ‘How are you doing? Are you O.K.?’
Unfortunately, this student is not alone in his feelings of isolation.
According to a story in the New York Times, in a survey of nearly 28,000 students on 51 campuses by the American College Health Association last year, more than 60 percent said that they had “felt very lonely” in the previous 12 months. Nearly 30 percent said that they had felt that way in the previous two weeks.
When I saw those stats, it made me sad to think of all those students feeling lonely while at college. I’m sure the survey results are representative of all colleges, which would mean that many of my students must experience such feelings while at school.
I think back to my college days, and while I realize that memory is a tricky thing, my memory of college is one of carefree living and happy times.
I do believe that college students have become more stressed over my 30 plus years of teaching, which again is sad to see. College should be a time of learning and growing and exploring, forming new friendships, and finding out where your interests lie and how you want to make your mark on the world. Doing those things should be joyous, not stressful.
And now on top of that stress, college students are feeling lonely.
The Times article notes that part of the blame could be placed on social media, which features highly selective images of people having wonderful times, which others look at while sitting alone in their college dorm room.
Smartphones are also to blame. Such devices make it easy for students to stay connected to their friends back home, potentially using such connections. as a way to avoid interacting with the person in the dorm room next to them. (Maybe that could explain part of the reason I found college so enjoyable, I didn’t have any close friends from high school that I felt a need to stay in touch with).
Many colleges are trying to address the loneliness issue, both through activities as well as in the design of living spaces.
Extended, elaborate freshmen orientation schedules are designed to not only help new students become familiar with the college, but to help students form early friendships with people they can have dinner with or simply hang out with when orientation is over.
Lawrence Biemiller recently noted in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that there’s even a push to place and design freshmen dormitories so that solitary time is minimized and interaction maximized.
For example, three new residence halls at Goucher College typify this trend. Center-of-hall situation of bathrooms, the glass walls of laundry rooms and even the speed of the wireless connection in common areas — much faster than in the rooms — are deliberate pushbacks against forces that can isolate students.
I certainly hope that these sorts of efforts help students to feel less isolated. Perhaps once the feelings of loneliness subside, the feelings of stress will diminish as well.
And then students can begin to experience college the way they had imagined it.