The class of 2024 has needed to make connections in new and unusual ways through TikToks, Facebook, Twitter and sticky notes.
Since classes began Aug. 26, UT has reported 72 student COVID-19 cases as of the writing of this story. At least six of these cases have been reported in both on-campus and off-campus dorms. To stay safe, some freshmen are staying away from in-person interactions and connecting with the UT community via social media instead.
Journalism freshman Sara Zaidi currently lives in West Campus and said she takes a lot of precautions because she’s immunocompromised.
“I’ve been staying in my apartment a lot,” Zaidi said. “I'm just trying to be more careful than most people are right now, (and) if I do see people, I keep my distance and it's outdoors.”
To socialize, Zaidi has taken to TikTok and recently reached out to someone who posted a video trying to connect with other UT students.
“I saw the TikTok and messaged her, ‘Hey if you ever (are) okay (with) meeting up or getting tea or coffee, like, I'm down to meet new people,’” Zaidi said.
Claudia Roman, a communication and leadership freshman, has been living alone in her room in Jester West since her roommate went home four days after moving in because of concerns related to COVID-19.
Roman said she has been socializing with other people on her floor through Post-its and handwritten notes on their doors. The various notes contain introductory messages and social media handles.
“I have a note on my door that says, ‘Come stop and say hi,’” Roman said. “I've met people online, but most of them I haven't seen in person.”
Unlike Zaidi and Roman, history freshman Xiangyu Fang is connecting with UT from his home in Beijing. He said he would rather meet people in person, but has only socialized through his First-Year Interest Group’s Zoom sessions and the class of 2024 Facebook page.
“(I’m) just stuck at home (and have) nothing else to do, (so I go) and chat online,” Fang said. “(But) I'm not comfortable (meeting) online because I think that conversation or friendship wouldn't last very long offline.”
Fang wasn’t able to get a student visa for the fall but hopes to return to campus in the spring. Until then, he is attending virtual information sessions for organizations where he hopes to meet people.
“I'm just trying to enjoy the (virtual) events and see if I get a chance to meet some nice, awesome people,” Fang said.
While Fang said he doesn’t approve of attending parties during the pandemic and plans to avoid them when he returns to campus, he also understands why some students are drawn to them.
“People really have to socialize, and sometimes you (can’t) control your intentions or desire for meeting new people,” Fang said. “Some (people) just enjoy partying, and … rules are (not) going to stop that.”
Zaidi said her plans for socializing and meeting new people next semester depend on COVID-19 conditions.
“Whenever you meet new people (this) semester, you don't know if they're being careful, so you don't know if you should be exposed to them,” Zaidi said. “Hopefully, (things) can get better and I (can) let my guard down a little bit.”