As we pass the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 lockdown for Americans, we are reminded of a year that has been marked by many personal struggles. Loss, anxiety, and worry dominate our days during a time where close, intimate interaction is few and far between. On top of the academic struggles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, college students are facing a major mental health crisis. According to a study done by psychologist Matthew Browning at Clemson University, about 85 percent of university students are experiencing high to moderate levels of distress during the pandemic.
As a freshman who entered BC with no friends and little connection to the Northeast, I can attest to the isolation many other students at the university and in the freshman class have experienced. I have been fortunate to find friends on campus to grab lunch with at Stu or walk with on the long trip from the Coro Bus stop to Merkert Hall, but lack a diversity in friendship that I hoped to find on a college campus.
Making friends within the BC bubble is undeniably the safest and most natural way to create friendship during the pandemic, but looming over every nightly get-together or random run-in with the neighbors across the hall is a reminder that protocols don’t allow for gatherings with over 3 people in a traditional dorm.
Freshmen are prone to gather in large groups. Finding friends throughout the entire year is a process of joining and making groups and being inclusive. As we approach the notoriously dangerous period for friendships at BC, the wretched housing process, freshmen can’t even meet in a group of 8 to plan for housing next year. Many are well-intentioned within the freshman class and try to include others in their plans but the rule surrounding group gatherings on-campus and off-campus are stringent.
It has been long overdue for BC to provide students, and especially the friendship-deprived freshmen, a way to safely socialize while following the rules of the university. Currently, the best hang-out spots on campus are the dining halls, which allow students to meet unmasked with 5 of their peers. If BC is allowing us to meet for meals, what stops them from planning other events following similar guidelines?
Instead of spending university funding on ice rinks that turn into glorified puddles, let’s look to spend money on bringing artists or speakers for socially distant gatherings.
If BC is insistent on students only meeting for meals, why don’t we have outdoor dinner events? Lobster bake, anyone? Imagine Stokes Lawn set up with 6-person tables on a spring evening and a fully BC catered lobster dinner. It would be a nice break from my daily chicken and two sides. Winterfest was a big hit among the upperclassmen, but isolated the under 21 population of the school because the selling point of the event was an open bar.
Not only does BC struggle to create these safe events for students on campus, but they have also been inadequate in spreading information. Has anyone received an email directly from CampusRec about intramural sports? All the information I have received about athletic opportunities has been second-hand from other students. With most club sports shuttered, students who rely on athletics as a social and physical deviation from academics are struggling to find ways to stay active. According to a recent survey by the University of Saskatchewan, only 9.6 percent of students at two separate universities were meeting Canadian guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity per week during the pandemic.
Freshman student Nate McConnell was a cross-country athlete in high school and looked forward to joining club sports at BC. He commented on the lack of recreational activities, “I tried to reach out to the club running team and they aren’t officially practicing. I was very involved in high school and not having club sports in general, makes me less motivated to exercise and meet new people.”
A lack of social events on campus has led students, most notably freshmen, off-campus to Boston area bars and residences where social distancing is not in effect. This inadequate preparedness to meet the needs of students on the part of BC has contributed to the lack of adherence to university policies that keeps the campus safe.
It is time for BC to step up and provide social events to prevent pandemic fatigue before it happens. What can the university do? Let’s start with communication. The BC administration should be sending weekly emails detailing campus activities, coronavirus protective reminders, and updates on case levels within the community. Emphasizing safe ways to socialize and opening socially distant recreational activities can help alleviate the difficulties posed by students gathering off-campus.