Loneliness at (and away from) Guilford

Students+walk+across+Guilford%27s+quad+in+September+2019.

Jay Montague

Students walk across Guilford's quad in September 2019.

Does having a smaller campus equal more opportunities to be social and less isolated? Guilford College is often praised for its size and how it creates a sense of community among students, staff and faculty. Community is also one of the seven core values at Guilford. However, some members of the community may feel like they have fallen through the cracks.

Students often talk about being in the “Guilford bubble” because of the school’s isolated location and size. Some people might assume that on a smaller campus it would be hard to feel lonely and that there are countless opportunities to make friends. Yet, students from first-years to seniors may feel alone.

Now that Guilford, many other colleges, universities and workplaces have closed in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus, students like first-year Janey Rich are coping with the loneliness of being away from the Guilford community.

Since participating in self-quarantining, Rich does feel lonely “in terms of not having people around that are my age. I text and call my friends every day but it’s still difficult. I miss them,” she said.

Rich mentioned quarantining with her grandparents as “huge inspiration for me to stay sanitized and stay inside (because they are immunocompromised), I want to make sure they don’t get sick.”

“It is easy to feel lonely at a time like this, but it’s all for our safety,” she said, adding that she has been trying to stay positive. “I understand the protocols Guilford is making for students, staff and faculty. All I can do is a countdown until the days we can see each other again.”

As a first-year student on campus at Guilford, you may be constantly stuck between feeling there’s so much to do and there’s never enough to do. Rich believes “that the small community is good for the same reasons it’s bad” and that rumors easily get started and spread on campus.  “It’s easy to feel isolated, especially as a first-year,” she said.

However, Rich credits programming on campus with offering students opportunities to connect. “I like how they bring people together thanks to CAB and other associations.” She came to Guilford “having friends from Spring into Guilford and orientation.” In these friendships and across campus, she has found that “people are pretty accepting.”

Junior Carmen Curtis agrees that Guilford’s event planning is not the reason some students feel lonely or isolated. “So many events happen, but people don’t show up,” she said.

“When people come to the events there seems to be a real fostering of community. Everyone is open, welcoming, and friendly,” Curtis added.  “ Everyone is willing to be friends, but some people have biases before they actually know you;  it’s like high school.”

Some students, like senior Tyler Sehnal, have a different take on campus events.

“I think that a lot of the events that are hosted here are better attended in groups, which just promotes that niche culture and benefits those who already have established friend groups at Guilford,” Sehnal said.

At Guilford, size does matter, and some students believe it’s why people have trouble finding friends. Curtis said she sometimes feels lonely, but “because it’s so small (she’s) able to meet more people.”

She also recounts some of the friendships that she made at Guilford that haven’t lasted. “Freshman year I had a big group of friends, then we started to separate. While going through the issues I felt really lonely and depressed,” Curtis said.

Through all of that, she found her own group of people she’s “always able to count on and go to for anything,” she said. All in all, Guilford’s size makes her feel like she “know(s) a lot of people but wouldn’t consider them friends.”

When asked whether or not Guilford’s small community hindered him from being able to make friends, Sehnal said,  “I think so; I think being such a small school allows smaller niches to be formed among students, making such groups more exclusive.

I don’t know a lot of people at Guilford,” he said. “I don’t really think I ‘fit in’ with many of the tight-knit niches that I mentioned earlier.”  Not being a part of such a group is one reason why Sehnal, who considers himself “slightly introverted,” avoids eating on campus and going to campus events.

However, he also stated that he considers himself lonely “only while on Guilford’s campus.”  Since the College closed its campus in March, Sehnal said he has quarantined himself but doesn’t feel lonely. “I’ve just been spending a lot of time with the same people I’m close to anyway.”