With the new school year come hopeful freshmen settling into their dorms, getting used to their twin XL comforters and cleaning mysterious carpet stains.
But they will inevitably feel a sense of loneliness creep in.
Worse than the freshman 15 or navigating the hills of UCLA, there is an underlying and often unspoken fear that comes with being alone and far away from home for the first time. And with a massive campus of more than 30,000 undergraduate students, it’s no wonder new students can feel uneasy during these first few weeks.
To put it bluntly, UCLA is more often than not a lonely place for new students. Despite promises of the “best four years” of their lives, there quickly becomes a disconnect between expectations and the reality.
Living on the Hill doesn’t make things easier – even though it should. And UCLA’s unwillingness to help students navigate its bad layout isn’t helping.
When the loneliness hits, it can feel like a sense of failure and shame. And since no one talks about it, students think they’re the only ones experiencing this sense of isolation. But this isn’t their fault. Although loneliness may be felt universally across college campuses, the isolated nature of the Hill in its physical makeup and unapproachable culture creates an antisocial environment that continues to hurt students.
Fourth-year psychobiology student and current resident assistant Kirsten Bermudo said it is especially common for first years and transfers to struggle to make connections. Bermudo also said she often hears students talk about the pressure to meet people, as if there is an unspoken timeline by which they need to make friends.
For many new students, their living situation defines the friends they meet. However, not all dorms are equally social.
The quieter climate of plaza style dorms might suit some students, but it can be a difficult transition for freshmen randomly placed in them – especially when the social situation does not meet their expectations. And students in these plaza style dorms are having a very different experience from their counterparts in classic dorms – something UCLA doesn’t consider when creating programming for the Hill.
Second-year biology student Natalie Gammad experienced this when she lived in a plaza in De Neve Birch. Gammad said she didn’t meet anyone on her floor besides her roommates until Week 10.
“Socially, it was kind of rough at first,” Gammad said. “It never got to the point where I didn’t like UCLA, but it didn’t make me feel too good about De Neve so I didn’t really feel encouraged to show up to the events on the floor.”
Many students might opt for meeting new people at floor events put on by RAs, but such events can often have low turnout, deterring students like Gammad. And outside of floor events, not much of an effort is made to accommodate the search for friends in different groups or even different dorms.
“While there was a lot of communication between roommates and suite mates, there wasn’t a lot of interaction among floors and houses like when you imagine stereotypical college dorm life,” said Cameron Jewett, a second-year undeclared life sciences student.
Even the numerous options for takeout on the Hill – from Café 1919 to The Study at Hedrick – contribute to the culture of getting in and out quickly with minimal social interaction.
To make matters worse, students think they are the only ones feeling lonely. A New York Times article mentions a survey done by the American College Health Association of nearly 28,000 students on 51 campuses last year, of which more than 60 percent said that they had “felt very lonely” in the previous 12 months.
Clearly, there’s an issue with isolation on the Hill. And UCLA has a layout that favors social culture – but only in some dorms. Unfortunately, they’re not in the business of doing anything for students that aren’t in those dorms.
Ideally, the university would consider these discrepancies between dorm layouts – and help students who don’t have the comfort of a social dorm to acclimate to their new life on the Hill.
Social experience is an important part of thriving at UCLA. Students want to meet their peers but lack a platform or place to do so. The Hill should be that safe space to find a community, especially considering how close in proximity students are to each other, but for some reason it is only fueling how lonely students feel.
Of course, some students living on the Hill value the privacy and quiet that comes with living in a less social dorm. But creating specialized events for students who are yearning for interaction – especially those in their first year – would not intrude on an otherwise peaceful environment. More programming to increase social interaction won’t hurt students who aren’t looking for it – but it will surely help those who are.
“You should find comfort in the fact that all these new students are going through the exact same thing you’re going through, and at the end of the day there’s no timeline, no pressure,” Bermudo said.
Granted, the only way new students can make friends is by leaving their shoebox of a dorm room.
But UCLA should have their backs during the process.