Over the last two weeks thousands of students moved onto campus at UNC, many for the first time ever. Each year I reflect on when I moved into my residence hall for the first time. Aside from the logistics of getting moved in and unpacking, my number one concern was whether I would find friends or a place that felt like I belonged.

In Housing and Residential Education we have always sent our Resident Assistants (RAs) out to meet all of their residents. They would knock on doors and take students to events happening all across campus. Our goal was to ensure that even the students who were hesitant to get out there and meet people had a chance to connect with someone and a friendly face to go to events with. This year, with precautions in place due to COVID-19, this looked very different. Move in was less eventful and spread over many days instead of one. RAs connected with their students over Zoom instead of in person. COVID-19 guidelines actually discourage mingling between students who don’t live together.

So, you might be asking… How can students still find connection when so many restrictions are in place? To try and compensate for these changes we implemented an Extended Orientation program to help with connection and to go over what to expect this year on campus as well as ways to successfully transition to campus as new college student. We planned many virtual and socially distanced activities for students to engage in. But the reality is that we still have students who are finding it hard to connect and find a place to belong. Some students might reach out to you and let you know, and some might need you to check in on them.

If your student tells you they are struggling to find their place at UNC, we want you to feel prepared to help navigate that conversation. More importantly, we want you to have tangible suggestions for things your student can do to get connected on campus.

  1. This is normal. Transitioning to college for this first time is hard for most students. Not all of them talk about it opening which probably makes your student feel like they are the only one. Reassure them they are not.
  2. It takes time. There isn’t a single thing a student can do to make this feeling change. It’s often a series of choices or experiences or interactions that slowly turn the  tide of feeling disconnected.
  3. Encourage them to read their emails and university social media accounts. We communicate most opportunities through emails and our social media – this is true for most offices on campus. So encourage your student to not skip over those messages.
  4. Your student will have to choose to change this. I think this can be the biggest hurdle. It’s scary to login to that zoom meeting when you don’t know anyone. It’s intimidating to put yourself out there – especially when you think you are the only one struggling to connect. But this year, more than ever, your student will need to take that first step because we can’t go out and knock on their door and go to the events with them.
  5. Look for opportunities to get involved. We have a lot of places students can look to find stuff happening on campus. Here are a few places to recommend:

At UNC there are always events, programs, and opportunities for students to get involved. We plan and host them all year long and that has not changed with COVID-19. However, we may need your help nudging your student to get involved if they are feeling disconnected.

If you hear from your student that they are feeling isolated or lonely please know that we are here to help. If you’ve tried everything above and nothing worked, and you just want someone to know, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Housing@unco.edu.