Are you feeling lonely on campus? Loneliness is a complex feeling triggered by disconnection from human interaction. Feelings of loneliness, just like stress, joy and anxiety are all part of the human experience, but can college heighten these feelings? Any student may feel lonely when they lack companionship or the feeling of belonging. However, being lonely is different from being alone.

While new and different environments are a part of what makes college so exciting, it can also mean a reconstruction of a social support system for some students. Usually occurring freshman year, or after transferring. Moving away from home or transferring from another school means leaving friends and family; this requires students to find and build an entirely new social system.

Casey Lum, a Communication professor at William Paterson specializes in professional communication and Media Studies. He holds a Master’s degree from the New School and a Ph. D. from New York University. Professor Lum points out the dilemma students face when building a new social system in college while staying connected with old friends through social media sites. He references Sherry Turkle’s book, Alone Together, as a resource that explains a dilemma social networks impose: 

“On the one hand people can reach out to many people with no temporal or spacial limitation via social media of all kinds. But at the same time this seems to increase instances (of) people feel(ing) isolated.” College students can relate and identify with this predicament. It’s easy to create a habit of constant contact with existing social support systems at the expense of growing new ones.

Do students use their phones as a shield from looking lonely in public? Being alone is different from feeling lonely.

Professor Lum eloquently pointed out that being “alone by yourself in solitude does not necessarily constitute to something negative.” It’s easy to mislabel an individual as lonely if he/she/they are by themselves on campus, but feelings of loneliness are unique to the experience of the person and their circumstances. When asked about the use of earbuds and headphones, Professor Lum supplied a “historical” context

“Starting from the old days we had what we call (a) Sony Walkman, with the headphones and all that, —it’s nothing new: (when) people put on headphones to listen to music. To the extent to which they were not required to interact with any human being, there is nothing wrong with (doing) that,” said Lum.

This rational explanation of normal behavior shines a light on the state of a person flying solo. Professor Lum further clarified that,“People use (these) kinds of devices, (like) putting on headphones, or not maintaining eye-contact, as ways to regulate social interactions.” This is an important point to make about common habits formed through social cues.

Resources exist on campus to help students who experience loneliness more than once in awhile. One of the best ways to expand horizons and meet new friends is through on-campus involvement. With over 100 clubs and organizations on the William Paterson Campus, there are a wide range of opportunities to try something new. Students can sign up for events in the student center, join a student-led organization in their area of academic interest, participate in recreational sports or join religion and heritage groups.

The full list of student groups can be found online under the campus life section of the school’s website. Mental health resources are available to all students through the Health and Wellness Center located on campus. Sometimes seeking professional help can seem scary, or even weak and hard to admit but students can own their feelings and grow into self-aware individuals. The center offers a variety of counseling services beneficial to students struggling with involvement.

Awareness can be the first step in addressing loneliness on campus. Identifying the feelings you’re feeling can be difficult, especially if you believe you are the only one to experience such feelings. A Podcast called The Lonely Hour hosted by Julia Bainbridge is an excellent resource to learn more about loneliness and hear stories of people’s experiences, coping mechanism and also interviews with accredited educators and social psychologists.(available on itunes or spotify for free) Talking about loneliness on campus can be a connecting point for all students, and being aware of the resources available will  nurture and enrich the campus from the individual level and outward.