College During a Pandemic: I Discovered What Mattered Most to Me About Friends

I never liked going to parties, but at the beginning of this semester, I found myself craving the excitement of dancing in a dark basement with loud music and strobe lights.

It was the second week of classes and the closest I came to a party was a socially distanced hangout of 10 people in the backyard of the on-campus house I shared with a group of 20. I, a self proclaimed introvert, was frustrated by the lack of stimulating socialization.

There were only three COVID cases at my school at the beginning of the semester. Despite my college having a population of 1800 students (there are fewer on campus now because of the students who decided to go remote this semester), this seemed like an unimpressive number to me. I saw the low number of cases at my school and in Maine overall as license to slightly widen my bubble.

What going to college this fall has been like. (Twenty20 @patchareeloveson)

It was easy to stretch the school’s rules

It was easy to fall into the habit of stretching the rules. As the school year progressed and the COVID regulations loosened, more students piled into our backyard on the weekends. Sometimes students who lived in the houses around us called security to report a party, even if there was no music playing.

When security came, someone’s mask would have slipped down below their nose or two kids who shared a bathroom on their floor would have less than six feet between them. The rules were there to protect us. We knew that, but shedding an extra foot between hall-mates or pulling masks down to take a drink seemed not only reasonable, but inevitable.

Security, understandably, couldn’t allow this. We were sent back into our house and our friends who lived around us were instructed to return to their dorms or on campus houses as well. My weekend nights began to consist of small gatherings in a friend’s room on my floor.

Our gatherings got smaller and more intimate

We played games, danced, shared stories, watched movies, and talked. We turned on Christmas
lights and sometimes put out snack spreads that we could pick at throughout the evening. Then, we went to bed early and spent the days at the coast surfing or in the mountains climbing.

We indulged in each other’s sports, gaining new confidence and skills. One weekend, I learned to mountain bike, a scary triumph that I’m not sure I would have been courageous enough or willing to try the morning after a long night out.

During rainy weekend days, one friend taught me to whittle. Now I use this new skill as a way to cope with stress and the result makes a meaningful gift for my friends and family. I learned more about this friend, as well as the other people in my house who I didn’t previously know and maybe wouldn’t have been drawn to if it weren’t for our circumstances.

It wasn’t the partying I missed, but the shared pre-event experiences

That’s when I realized that it wasn’t the partying that I missed, but what came before: trying on clothes and indulging in the nervous, excitable energy with my friends. I liked the shared experience we had in pre-Covid times when that came before losing each other in the thick crowds at parties. Through things like mountain biking, climbing, surfing, and whittling, we, in a way, recreated that shared experience while also cultivating new skills, building our confidence, and getting exercise.

Don’t get me wrong; I believe that there can be social and emotional value in parties. If you don’t know anyone, there’s a curious sense of safety that comes with being anonymous and meeting new people. If the party is filled with familiar faces, then reconnecting with friends who live far away on campus and dancing with them can be fun and satisfying. However, right now, I am focusing on the opportunity that I have to create intimate relationships with the people who I live with.

This era reminds me of the friendships I made in summer camp

It reminds me of how incredibly quickly my friendships formed at sleepaway camp. Partially this happened, I think, is because we were forced into close quarters together where we had access to fun activities, but ultimately were tasked with creating our own fun. This task was one that we all took on with grace and joy, because we were expecting it.

We signed up, paid for, and endured the long car ride to the middle of nowhere without our familiar comforts with the knowledge that we would have significant freedom restrictions, and it would still be some of the best weeks of our lives.

College, during this pandemic, became like camp. I spent more time with the kids in my house than I probably would have otherwise. I think about what our relationships might have looked like if the pandemic didn’t socially limit us as much as it did, and I think that the community in my house would have been significantly less close knit and the friendships wouldn’t have been nearly as deep.

Has the universe given me what I need rather than that I want?

It’s tempting to believe that this is a manipulation of the universe to give me what I needed rather than what I wanted, but I don’t believe in that kind power. I do believe, however, that joy and positivity are hidden in the crevices of the new restrictions of this pandemic. I believe that having an enjoyable experience right now means giving up the expectation that the highlight of college is the party scene.

Because having a safe, sustainable, and fun college experience during this pandemic is about finding the joy in small group hangouts and activities. It’s about trusting that this joy is just as real and maybe even more meaningful than dancing in a crowded basement.

More to Read:

Letter to College Students Who’re Living at Home, From a Fellow Student

About Kenzie Licata

Kenzie Licata is a 19 year old college student attending Bates College. She is studying Psychology and Pre Med with a concentration in the human body. Kenzie is involved in her Bate's Outing Club, Feminism club, and volunteers at a local domestic abuse hotline.

Read more posts by Kenzie

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