Insight: Connecting to my freshman class while hundreds of miles away

When COVID-19 is to blame, social media is the name of the game for thousands of students, especially freshmen

While many of my fellow freshmen classmates in the class of 2024 are finally getting used to life on campus, for me, little has changed. For a variety of financial and health concerns, this semester I chose to take all of my classes virtually from my out-of-state home.

As a student who wants to get involved with their campus community and participate in student organizations, I at first felt like I was in a tricky predicament. How would I connect with my fellow classmates while living in a different state?

It turns out, my situation is not that unique. There are many first-year students like me who have chosen to attend ASU entirely virtually and live off campus this semester.

Sophie Nguyen, a freshman chemical engineering major, originally planned to live on campus this fall. After finding out most of her classes would be taught exclusively through ASU Sync, the University’s online remote learning program, she decided to "switch to an all-virtual semester.”

She’s not alone. Sohan Rayabharapu, another first-year student and a computer science major, also made the choice to take all of his classes remotely, off campus.

“It wasn’t that hard of a choice to make, considering the situation right now,” Rayabharapu said in a message. 

Nguyen agrees that it was the right decision for her to stay off campus, citing rising COVID-19 positive cases on ASU campuses and what she calls a “lack of transparency with ASU” in regard to the cases.

“(Students) who go to the dorms have been cooped up for months, I know they'll go a little wild, definitely hurting the prevention of COVID cases," Nguyen said in a message.

That doesn’t mean the decision to live off campus is without its challenges. For students who want to get involved with their university community, it can make things much more difficult.

“It is hard to connect to my classmates and teachers,” Nguyen said.

Fortunately, there are a variety of digital resources ASU students can use to socialize and join organizations or clubs. 

1100 admitted freshman and transfer students have already joined devil2devil. Join the private admitted student network...

Posted by Arizona State University Admission Services on Thursday, January 23, 2014

Some are managed by the University, like “Devil2Devil,” a Slack server every student is automatically invited to. Students can choose between over 300 different channels of varying topics, from a chat for all first-year students to a channel devoted to sharing Animal Crossing friend codes. 

University staff keeps the Devil2Devil Slack server updated almost daily with information about upcoming University events, opportunities to get involved in clubs digitally and announcements from the administration. I've found this resource makes me feel more in-tune with ASU's daily happenings, even while hundreds of miles away.

Other students turn to less official methods of connecting on social media, myself included. An Instagram account titled “ASU Class of 2024” allows freshmen to upload photos of themselves and a short introduction. The account has amassed over 5,000 followers and over 1,500 individual posts from first-year students. It is unaffiliated with the University. 

I've befriended several fellow freshmen who posted on the Class of 2024 Instagram account. For me, it's an easy way to find people with similar interests on a social media platform most college students already actively use.

Nguyen has used both Devil2Devil and informal outlets, like group chats made by her classmates on the app Discord, to exchange contact information with other freshmen.

In fact, it may be more convenient for students like Nguyen and I to get involved digitally than it is for students living on campus. This semester, Nguyen has found it easy to participate in multiple clubs, since “it’s just a mouse click away, instead of a 30-minute walk away.”

But Nguyen doesn’t believe that social media is a perfect substitute for in-person socializing. 

“The screen does make things feel more detached,” she said. “I do feel like I’m missing out, yes, from the ‘traditional’ college experience. However, to be frank, everyone is … I think my experience won’t be too much different from others since most people are online anyway.”

Still, some students are positive about the future. 

“It kinda sucks that it’s like this, but it’s for the best, and I know that whenever we are able to get back on campus it’ll be a lot of fun,” Rayabharapu said.

I can’t help but agree. I know I made the right decision for myself in staying out of state for the semester, and in the meantime, I’ll be busy making friends and joining clubs from my laptop here at home.


Reach the reporter at lexmoulton@gmail.com and follow @lexmoul on Twitter.

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