Augustine: Building connection through your peer advisory group

Kathryn Augustine, Columnist

I entered Northwestern without any friends or acquaintances that I could immediately rely on, and I was not alone. I was especially anxious about navigating campus, dining halls or lectures without someone familiar there with me.

Belonging to a peer adviser group alleviated some of that stress. We ate together consistently. We weren’t left to find Norris University Center or Sargent dining hall ourselves. We participated in conversations often initiated by our peer advisers. My PA group served as a safety net of sorts, somewhere comfortable to land.

I didn’t necessarily imagine becoming particularly close with anyone, but I was grateful I now had faces on campus that I could recognize and name. And in reality, I actually ended up making several close friends.

With COVID-19, PA groups are invaluable. Some students may be living in a dorm while others may be living outside of the United States, experiencing every aspect of college through a virtual lens. Regardless of the situation, there will be remote components of college in addition to social distancing guidelines that will impede how we are accustomed to building new relationships.

In a lecture, you might turn to the person next to you and introduce yourself. When a class is remote, it’s not as comfortable to begin messaging a person in your course whose face appears on your screen. Socialization is also complicated by limited capacities in a physical space. If you can’t enter a building or a room, then you cannot meet anyone inside.

Starting Northwestern virtually through a PA group creates some sense of a greater community. For someone who perhaps does not have the confidence to initiate conversations digitally, they are forced into a situation in which they need to become accustomed to. Even for students who may be quite extroverted, entirely digital socialization is still daunting.

PA groups can help new students to make connections in this new normal and may contribute to dissolving the awkwardness at the beginning of a Zoom call or the stigma of introducing yourself in a breakout session. If first-years are able to lean into the digital social environment created by a PA group, perhaps the transition into a virtual quarter will be less jolting and anxiety-provoking.

Kathryn Augustine is a Medill junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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