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W&M experts give students tips on making social connections

  • Students socializing outside Sadler Center
    Social scene:  Sadler Center and its adjacent Terrace are popular gathering spots for William & Mary students.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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A note to the reader: This article addresses the social dimension of wellness, one of eight dimensions of integrative wellness as defined by W&M’s Office of Health & Wellness. It is not intended as a one-size-fits-all set of recommendations, as every student is different with diverse experiences and needs. A wide array of in-person and online resources are available to all students through the Office of Health & Wellness. – Ed.

Starting a new academic year always brings jitters for students, but adapting to COVID-19 makes it even tougher.

As William & Mary opens for fall, both new and returning students are looking for ways to form or strengthen their social networks.

Last year, students may have been fully remote and away from campus or heavily relying on online social connections. Some of those ties can be carried forward either in person, online or through a combination of ways, meshing the Zoom meetings and online chats of last year with the return of in-person social activities both structured and unstructured.

Meeting people, making friends and building your own community may take a little more effort and creativity,  but opportunities to meet other students are all around — from joining one of the university’s 40-plus club sports to the less formal approach of just striking up a conversation.

As students start classes, W&M News asked 10 experts on campus for their tips on building social connections.

Tami Back (director of communications & strategic planning for W&M Libraries)

Find a student group in something that interests you. There are so many opportunities at W&M to get involved.

At the library, we have library ambassadors, a student-run group for those who love the library. They meet monthly for dinner (free food!) and to hear about what’s happening in the libraries.

However, I caution you to not overload your schedule. Make sure you have time for class, studying, exercise, social activities and sleep. Self-care is so, so important.

T Davis (assistant director, health promotion)

Making connections with others may be a challenge for some students. Nod is a platform that can assist students in building the skills to make long-lasting deep connections. The cell phone app is available to all students, graduate and undergraduate, who are a part of the William & Mary community.

Maggie Burkhart Evans (associate vice president, campus living)

Relationships are all about communication, compromise and care. Whether it’s a roommate, classmate or friend, you need to stay in touch with your internal feelings as you ease back into campus life and (begin) hanging out with someone other than your dog, cat or laptop.

We’ve all become accustomed to time and space to do our own thing, and transitioning to being together will inevitably result in some bumps along the road.

If something rubs you the wrong way, consider why it bothers you. If it is not something that can just be brushed off, talk with the other person about your thoughts and expectations. Often such feelings are the result of misinterpreting intent. Either way, a direct conversation can clear the air and even strengthen your connection. And a quick “thanks for our talk” after the fact can go a long way.

Lauren Garrett (director, student transition engagement programs)

It’s OK to stick with what you know at first. Yes, here at W&M we want you to try new things, but putting yourself “out there” to meet new people who share a common interest, a tried and true passion, is a great foundation-builder.

Have reasonable expectations. You can’t be best friends with everyone — and not everyone meets their people on the first day of orientation. Give yourself time to build that social network, and it will happen. Just be authentically you. That’s why W&M wanted you in our community.

Take out your earbuds and engage with your community. When you are standing in line at the Caf, strike up a conversation with the person next to you. Bond over the fact that you are hungry — or “hangry.” When you arrive to class, introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you and talk about how excited or nervous you are about the topic at-hand.

As you walk around campus, smile behind your mask and with your eyes and say hello to people as you cross paths to acknowledge we’re all in this together. We are creatures of habit, so chances are that you’ll see these people again, and again, and again.

Lori Jacobson (director, Writing Resources Center)

Make some time to engage with the campus resources available to you — Writing Resources Center, Tutor Zone, McLeod Tyler Wellness Center, Cohen Career Center and so on.

Take a yoga class, attend a workshop, work on time-management at the Tutor Zone, or talk to a writing consultant about your next paper. You'll feel more connected to campus, build skills and increase your confidence.

Jennifer Leung (associate director, student leadership development)

Joining some clubs and organizations is a great way to meet people and connect over shared interests. We have a lot of clubs and organizations at William & Mary, so it’s important to be intentional when thinking about which ones you want to join. 

Also remember, you have time. You don’t need to join a lot of organizations right away. You can start with one or two to help you get acclimated to campus, and you can always join more after you feel more settled in.

Stephen Moyer (operations manager, Sadler Center Court)

Eating healthy has many benefits to body and mind. Try different things, explore different places, take in all the natural beauty that surrounds us.

Getting out and working on our KelRae Farm or one of our community gardens will relieve stress and who knows, maybe you will meet some lifelong friends in the process.

Melody Porter (director, community engagement)

Find something you're interested in and invite someone to do it with you. Some of the best things I've experienced in my life came from such friends' invitations to the info session or activity they were on their way to.

I've ended up on Habitat for Humanity builds, in leadership of organizations that grew to be really important to me and even on a three-week subsidized trip to the Middle East. Each of those things also helped me to feel like I was part of something bigger, and I'm still friends with some of those folks 20 years later.

It can be vulnerable to invite someone and risk a no, but it's definitely a no if you don't take the leap of asking.

Joe Wheeless (assistant director, student leadership development)

Don’t sign up for every listserv. Be intentional about what you want to join, what events you want to do and how you spend your time. It can be easy to want to do everything all at once, but as the semester progresses, you’ll soon realize your plate is too full. Join at least one club or organization at first, not five.

Michael White (assistant director, outdoor recreation)

If the university feels small, lonely and without community: Get involved. Join a club. Attend an event. You will find the school is bigger than you think and you will feel more a part of it all.

If the university feels too big, too overwhelming, lonely and without community: Get involved. Join a club. Attend an event. You will find a smaller, tight-knit community that embraces you and makes the school feel more personal.

It’s really funny how that works in both situations.