This article, The Real Campus Scourge, by Frank Bruni appeared in the New York Times this weekend and it is well worth your time to read it (PDF here: The-Real-Campus-Scourge-The-New-York-Times). It is about students coming to college and finding – to their surprise/dismay/horror – that they are lonely. How can they be in a sea of young, fun, people, and feel alone? Bruni describes it well:
“The problem sounds so ordinary, so obvious: People in an unfamiliar location confront dislocation. On their own two legs for the first time, they’re wobbly. Who would expect otherwise? Well, most of them did, because college isn’t sold to teenagers as just any place or passage. It’s a gaudily painted promise. The time of their lives! The disparity between myth and reality stuns many of them, and various facets of youth today — from social media to a secondary-school narrative that frames admission to college as the end of all worry — worsen the impact.”
I talk to my advisees/other students about the fact that the transition to college (not just Wake – ANY college) has many bumps along the way. And that popular culture sells college as The Most Amazing Four Years You Will Ever Spend In Your Life, giving off the impression that it is seamless, easy, perpetually amazing, when it isn’t (preview of coming attractions for your Deacs: new parenthood is also billed like this, and is equally hard).
Our students see their high school friends at other colleges posting seemingly-perfect Instagram pictures of their new friends and you might feel left out or lost. What they don’t see, though, is that those friends posed 20 times for that ‘perfect looking’ selfie, until they found the one with the best angle/lighting/etc. No one has it perfect. So perhaps we should all stop trying to make it look that way.
My plea to the students I meet is this: be open and honest about what is going on with you. Lonely? Homesick? Scared? Overwhelmed? Admit it during conversation with your roommate, friend(s), hallmates. If more people said that the struggle is real, my theory is that it will be easier for others to be brave and open up too – and then more students would realize “I’m not the only one who feels this way!”
If your new Deac hits a rough spot and feels lonely or overwhelmed, remind them that this is normal. If you have a sophomore, junior, or senior, encourage them to be open and friendly to the students in their classes, maybe even get to know them and share their own experience. Encourage students to take advantage of the free, confidential, and high-quality counseling from the University Counseling Center if needed.
Yesterday was the Student Involvement Fair, which allowed students to sign up for distro lists for various clubs and organizations. Sometimes getting involved in a few of these groups is the thing that helps students broaden their network and find their niche on campus. And with those tiny successes, confidence grows. If your student did not attend, or wants more help to find their group(s) on campus, encourage them to talk to the Office of Student Engagement. They have engagement consultants who can help your Deac plug in to organizations and more.
It is hard to watch your student struggle to navigate the new terrain of college, particularly if your Deac is in a rough patch or homesick, or whatever. Try to remember back to the days when your Deac was very young – learning to walk, learning to ride a bike – and remember that we have to fall, and wobble, and persist in order to succeed. You can’t do it for them, but you can tell them you love them and that with time and effort, they’ll get to the place they want to be.