I recently read Frank Bruni’s column in The New York Times about The Real Campus Scourge – loneliness. Having lived and worked on college campuses for over thirty years, I agree that despite being surrounded by thousands of people – classmates, professors, and higher education professionals – the higher ed enterprise can be rather lonely. Classroom activities, study gatherings, group projects and student organizations, among other methods that enable social interaction, can and do facilitate a sense of community, but to be honest, students (and many others on campus) spend much of their time working on their own. This has been exacerbated, in my experience, by the mobile communication devices we all carry and that isolate us from those sitting right next to us.
However, those who feel lonely on campus are not really alone – and it doesn’t take much to reach out and ask for company, or ask for assistance from those who can help. Bruni, in fact, reminds us that campus loneliness is indeed “normal, survivable and shared by many.” Responses to Bruni’s piece are also enlightening – some noting that this won’t be the only time in one’s life when loneliness might strike, and that the ways in which we respond to such feelings now will be helpful in developing grit and resilience for the long haul.
So, don’t despair if you feel alone – talk with someone to learn how to address your loneliness. Whether it is to make your way to important resources available from campus professionals, to find someone who might also be feeling lonely and build a new relationship, or to use that loneliness as a way to persevere and grow (or, of course, all the above), the connections you need are only a question away. And for those of us living and working on college campuses, we must enhance our awareness about loneliness and boost our willingness to recognize these feelings when we experience them or see them in others. We should also engage more thoughtfully to assist students (and new faculty and staff) in their transitions to a new space. Each of us can play a significant role in helping someone feel less lonely – and in the process feel less lonely ourselves.