The First-year Social Disconnect

With a half-baked closure of high school and a hybrid kickoff of college life, the class of 2024 has been left socially stunted and stressed.

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With a half-baked closure of high school and a hybrid kickoff of college life, the class of 2024 has been left socially stunted and stressed. 

During the fall of 2020, 42% of students who accessed the Wheaton Counseling Center were first-years and 37% of students indicated looking for that extra support due to COVID-19 challenges.

Missing out on experiences like the pre-covid first-year orientation has left newcomers in the dark regarding the social essence of Wheaton.

“I feel like the traditional events like the Chapel Night may have been part of my romanticized idea of coming here. When applying to Wheaton, the events and community aspect were heavily advertised, and a big part of my decision,” said Grace Beach ’24.

It’s not just Wheaton facing this issue, a recent study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill revealed the negative effect that COVID-19 has had on first-year college students. Using survey data based on 419 Chapel Hill students, researchers found the prevalence of moderate to severe anxiety in first-year college students increased 40%, from 18.1% before the pandemic to 25.3% within just four months of the pandemic; and the prevalence of moderate to severe depression in first years increased by 48%, from 21.5% to 31.7%. 

“It is very difficult to connect with one another through a virtual platform when no one knows who you are.” said class council treasurer, Rachel Hickey ’24.

The remote first-year is tackling the obstacles of isolation with her passion for planning events and creating communities among students. Hickey created “The Remote Students Initiative”, a proposal to give remote students the ability to interact and have a sense of belongingness at Wheaton. The proposal intends to create both formal and informal online settings for student interaction. You can find more information on their Instagram

“The clubs and organizations are really working hard to do either some grab and go or hybrid events,” said Associate Director of SAIL, Nicole Lombardi.

Lombardi told The Wire that students can find events to attend using Engage, or check out the chalkboards in Balfour or Chase. She advises students to contact student engagement assistants with any questions about getting involved, no matter how random, as it is their job to help.

Students can contact the counseling center by calling 508-286-3905 or by booking an appointment through InsideWheaton.