If one thing has suffered during lockdown, it has been human connection. Apart from essential workers, everyone has seen their lifestyles largely shift indoors. Conversations have moved online, workplace meetings rely on Zoom calls and many family gatherings have been cancelled.
This too has been the case at university. What was once a largely social aspect of everyday life for many, has gone through a seismic shift.
Every year, freshers descend on university campuses; for many, it’s their first time away from home. Some will have even travelled from abroad to access high quality education. Freshers want to fully embrace the university experience: this depends on other students. Indeed, human connection should be an essential aspect of learning. Time spent with others: arguing, debating, seeking advice and unwinding are all essential for human development. Universities should be judged on whether their graduates are well rounded humans alongside their degree classification.
During the pandemic, we almost became used to completing virtual exams and only talking to friends on a screen. In the autumn term, universities are offering a mixed approach, by having online lectures alongside in-person seminars if possible. Institutions are implying then, that while they desire human connection, it is not essential for fulfilled university memories. The very opposite is true. Students communicating in person is required for a well-rounded experience.
Lectures form a central part to the university experience. Students gather in large groups to hear academics discuss a range of ideas. For years, students have argued that lectures should be recorded online due to large numbers not attending. The situation isn’t the same when individuals are unable to attend in-person. For some, it might be the only chance to see everyone on their course while others pay more attention in a lecture theatre than their home.
Human discussions are more important in seminars as they are designed around individual debate and formulate the academic bedrock of university. Small groups engage in discussion about their course, with students obliged to complete reading for conversation to work.
Seminar engagement is far more than academia. It might be the only real life connection someone has: their time isolated is temporarily resolved by seminars. They are effective for meeting people, with brief discussion possible at the start and end of lectures. With the Canadian Mental Health Association finding that loneliness can be more harmful than obesity, smoking or high blood pressure. Seminars are built around communication.
Humans are inherently social. Thank goodness for societies: places for pure pleasure because of human connection. A huge range of activities are on offer. From academic societies to pursuing sports, societies are the place for meeting friends outside subjects. It’s perfect for engaging with university life and integrating into the social world. They allow shared interests to flourish. Mindwise report socialisation as improving one’s physical health, with a high quality of social relationships correlating with longer life spans.
Societies provide a means to unwinding from academic life. Sure, revision is important, but productivity only occurs with motivation. The anticipation of relaxing makes someone feel better. It is because of the company of others. With Good Therapy finding those in neighbourhoods with easy access to post offices, playgrounds and meeting venues feeling happier, it’s undeniable that social involvement increases fulfilment. This comes alongside those who are unable to experience human connection receiving less job satisfaction, according to Prima. Spending time with others is essential for performing well academically.
Much human connection is about moral support. If something goes wrong, adults must manage making social connections essential. Loneliness is damaging at university, even for those like myself who enjoy their own company. With a University of Michigan study finding that areas of the brain that light up during physical pain also light up during rejection, it’s evident loneliness is physically and mentally harmful.
Indeed, moving away from home is inevitably daunting. Young people who may have barely turned 18 travel from their life of comfort and protection at home to the world of independence. We should embrace this independence, even when it must be balanced with a dependence on others. Social connections make dealing with student problems like housing far easier. As Emma Seppala states in The Happiness Track people who feel socially connected are “more trusting and cooperative”.
The university experience is all encompassing as a beacon for academic excellence. They’re places for the pursuit of knowledge autonomous of government interference. They’re the location where the highest levels of knowledge and critical thinking are unapologetically celebrated.
However, university goes beyond lecture theatres. Connections from others are vital. Online learning is no compensation for collaboration. It is depressing students are unable to enjoy their third term to continue their aspirations. It’s even more saddening that online lectures mean socially distanced universities appear the ‘new normal’. Human connection is the foundation of university. The hustle and bustle of university campuses must soon return.
Words by Noah Keate
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