NU Declassified: A New Twist on Speed Dating

Hannah Cole, Reporter

Can you form a friendship with someone you’ve never met in person? During Winter Welcome, residential services brought back speed friending, an event that’s based on speed dating. New students participated in the event with other people from their dorms and residential areas. Students like freshman Natalie Norquist enjoyed meeting new people and putting a face to the names in her building. Others, like freshman Mika Ng, created long-lasting friendships from speed friending during Wildcat Welcome this past September.

HANNAH COLE: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Hannah Cole and this is NU Declassified, a look into how Wildcats thrive and survive on Northwestern’s campus.

HANNAH COLE: During Wildcat Welcome in September, Northwestern’s Residential Services created virtual activities to help students stay connected to campus from wherever they call home. One popular event was called speed friending. Amanda Mueller, Northwestern’s senior assistant director for residential life, explained that her office wanted students to meet people before starting life on campus. 

AMANDA MUELLER: As we were planning for the Fall Quarter, obviously, the University pivoted pretty quickly, and our resident director team — who are the professional staff that oversee the RAs— were talking through what does it look like to do social and connecting events with students who aren’t necessarily on campus or can’t be in person? And so, as the RDs were thinking through things, someone had thrown out the idea of speed friending, and what would that look like in a digital space. 

HANNAH COLE: Students were separated into breakout rooms for quick conversations prompted by a list of questions. The organizers constantly switched the breakout rooms so students could meet plenty of people. In September, around 300 students participated in speed friending. While speed friending during Winter Welcome saw a drop in participation, about 50 students still attended each speed friending event on average.

AMANDA MUELLER: People had done an entire quarter of remote learning, and maybe were a little Zoomed out. But we also knew that with students being in the room for the wellness period, they would still want to build community. And so we offered it, four or five times formally. But then we also had some RAs that did it specifically for their community and kind of did it a little bit on a smaller scale.

HANNAH COLE: This was the case for McCormick freshman Natalie Norquist. She lives in Willard Hall and was able to connect with people on her floor after her RA organized a speed friending event.

NATALIE NORQUIST: I think it gives more of a sense of community. It’s a really easy way to find out more about people and connect names on the doors to faces. When I walk down the third floor I recognized most of the girls and some of the boys. I can match that with their faces that I’ve met from speed friending.

HANNAH COLE: But how have virtual friendships made through speed friending translated to in-person relationships? 

MIKA NG: I underestimated the long term effects of just popping on to speed friending one day because what really worked out was that I was living off-campus in an area that was 10 minutes from Evanston. 

HANNAH COLE: That’s McCormick freshman Mika Ng. Mika connected on campus with a friend she met through speed friending in September.

MIKA NG: One of the girls that I met on speed friending lived probably a two-minute drive away from my Airbnb first quarter. So through that connection, we had planned a time to meet up again, in person, and then that was able to actually form a really great friendship. And she’s one of my closest friends now. So we hung out a ton first quarter, and then even now living on campus, we’ve been able to see each other a lot, and meet friends through each other and hang out with each other, which I think is really funny that it happened over speed friending because she’s like an internet friend in that sort of way.

HANNAH COLE: Amanda said Northwestern’s Residential Services is happy that speed friending helped with the transition on campus for students like Natalie and Mika. 

AMANDA MUELLER:  It’s actually shocking just how a program that had lost its appeal to students suddenly, in a digital space can become that much more important. I would say in Winter Quarter, Chicago is not a warm place, so it’s not like you have the same ability to run into someone while you’re walking across campus or if there’s something going on on one of the quad areas that you can engage in in the same way. Then throw on top of it a pandemic, where people aren’t going to classrooms where they might engage with each other in the same way that they would have maybe last year in Winter Quarter. It’s not going to be natural like it would if you were just moving around campus, I think it becomes that much more important as students might be in their room a lot more, they’re not getting out as much. And this might give them a reason to leave that space to interact with somebody, or even an opportunity to meet somebody that they would have never encountered in another space. That in this virtual space allows them to start to form those relationships.

HANNAH COLE: In the future, Amanda hopes to continue planning events for students. Whether these activities are on Instagram, in a hybrid space or more speed friending over Zoom, Residential Services is excited to keep helping students connect. 

HANNAH COLE: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Hannah Cole. That’s all for this episode of NU Declassified. Thanks for listening! This episode was reported and produced by Hannah Cole. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Alex Chun, the digital managing editors are Molly Lubbers and Olivia Yarvis, and the editor in chief is Sneha Dey.

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