UT should create pen pal system for freshmen

Sam Thielman

My aunt likes to complain that people these days don’t write letters anymore, but the joke’s on her because there are 119 letters in just this sentence.

Puns aside, my aunt isn’t wrong. I don’t think I’ve written a letter that wasn’t a thank- you card or an invitation in years. This seems odd when I think about it because, honestly, letters are fun. I get excited when I see an envelope in the mail slot with my name on it, even if that excitement is immediately squashed when I realize the envelope contains my electric bill. Receiving a letter gives me feelings of comfort and belonging, which students on campus, particularly freshmen, could benefit from. To help students cope with their first year, UT should create a pen pal system for freshmen on campus.

As I’m sure everyone knows, freshman year of college can be rough. You may not know anyone on campus, you’re probably living in a new city, and it can be hard to really get to know people when you only see them in a lecture for three hours each week. 

Of course, there are several systems already in place on campus to address this issue. Notably, First-Year Interest Groups serve a nearly identical purpose to what I’ve described so far. However, a pen pal system could allow a student to form a close bond with someone else on campus — which is hard to do in a group setting. When you’re used to only seeing people in a particular group, it can be awkward to break out of that — such as by hanging out one-on-one with someone you know from a class or FIG. By fostering one-on-one relationships between students, this problem can be circumvented.

“I think it’d be pretty cool,” math freshman Elijah Stroud said. “I know before I got to campus I had a friend who came here, … and I imagine if I hadn’t had someone like that, (this) would’ve been really helpful.”

Additionally, FIGs focus on grouping students with other students who have similar majors. However, part of the joy of college can be meeting people with wildly different talents and passions than you. 

“I like the idea of … doing it across campus,” Lisa Valdez, senior administrative program coordinator for FIGs, said. “(Such as) pairing fine arts students with business students, and different things like that, where somebody has a very different major than them, but maybe has the same personal interests.” 

UT could implement this pen pal system in multiple different ways — it could even be tacked onto the FIG system that already exists. Students in FIGs could opt into a pen pal system between their FIG and another FIG and be paired with a student based on similar interests. 

“With the way that FIGs are already set up, I think (pairing students across FIGs) would be easy to do,” Valdez said.

Arguably, the hardest part of freshman year is trying to feel like you belong on campus. A system that helps new students make friends, with the special feeling that only comes from receiving a handwritten letter, has the potential to help with that. That’s why UT should create a pen pal system for incoming freshmen. 

And, hopefully, I’ll get my aunt to quit nagging me.

Thielman is a sophomore History and Rhetoric & Writing major from Fort Worth.