UT-Austin students struggle to connect to peers virtually from home

Sheryl Lawrence

Some students who chose to stay home during the fall semester have searched for ways to stay connected to their peers socially and academically through social media and First-Year Interest Groups. 

Psychology freshman Miranda Avila is currently taking classes from her home in McAllen, Texas, and said she did not want to spend the extra money to risk exposure to COVID-19. 

“I would be living in a dorm, and I’ve heard a lot of people say everyone gets sick in the dorms super fast even without COVID-19,” Avila said. “It just didn’t seem worth it to waste that much money to live in a dorm when all my classes were online.”

Public relations freshman Michelle Arriaga is currently taking classes from her home in Houston and said she found connections through GroupMe.

“There was a GroupMe for a communication class that has almost 800 people in it, and I sent something out saying, ‘If you live in Houston and are staying home, join this group chat,’ and a bunch of people joined … and we talk sometimes,” Arriaga said.

Samantha Ortiz, a sophomore biochemistry and English major from El Paso, Texas, said she stayed home to save money on housing and is staying connected with friends through social media.

“I’m following a lot more people on social media … just to keep track of who is doing what,” Ortiz said. “Sometimes, I will text my friends about classes.”

Public health freshman Keziah Bejo, who is taking classes from her home in McAllen, said her First-Year Interest Group has not helped her feel connected.

“Most of the people in my FIG are … already getting the chance to get to know each other on campus while the rest of us that are at home don’t really get to do that,” Bejo said.

Avila said the FIG has been useful for classwork but has not helped her connect with people. However, she said she has found some friends through apps such as GroupMe.

“We haven’t really gotten to know each other, but it’s nice because I do have them in the other classes … and you can always reach out to them if you’re wanting to study,” Avila said.

Bejo said even with the majority of events happening online, many students not on campus feel they are missing out on multiple aspects of college.

“I think my biggest concern … is missing out academically … and it’s just harder for me because no one really wants to meet up over Zoom,” Bejo said.