Have you felt a gradual loss of your Amherst friendships? The small student body once made it easy to accumulate new friends and acquaintances — whether in class, Val, clubs or your floor. Now, with a chunk of the student community living off-campus, the majority of classes being conducted remotely and typical on-campus activities on hold, it has become increasingly difficult to make new friends and maintain old ones in the Amherst community. If you feel like your network of relationships at Amherst has dwindled considerably, you are not alone.
In such a mentally and emotionally draining time, many students feel as if they have to exert more energy and effort into their friendships than before. Prior to Covid, these relationships at Amherst often formed naturally as a result of spontaneously being in the same locations each day. Now, many relationships no longer have this convenience. While it may seem simple to expend a little extra energy into friendships, it is easier said than done, especially when considering the various relationships you may have accumulated in your time at Amherst.
“At Amherst, it’s easy to maintain daily socialization with friends at all levels, including both close friends and acquaintances, because you are seeing everyone all the time in places like Val or Frost. But when you’re not physically in the same place, it takes a lot more time and energy to maintain constant communication,” said Haley Greene ’21.
Seeing friendly faces walking around campus was a key element of the pre-Covid Amherst experience. Even if they did not know a person well, the act of stopping to chat with someone or even just offering a smile would often brighten their day, even just slightly. Now, in the absence of these spontaneous conversations and with those soft smiles all masked up, students are noticing the small but positive impact these organic interactions had on their Amherst experience.
Now that some students live off-campus, it is not only inconvenient but strictly prohibited for on-campus students to establish outside of the Amherst bubble anymore. Despite being friendly with these acquaintances, many students I interviewed admitted they would not reach out to these more distant relationships. As a result, students feel their social networks have become confined to their few closest friendships.
Mia Rahn ’23 voiced similar sentiments: “Last year, there were a bunch of people that I would see around in Val or walking to class and I would always genuinely enjoy talking with them, but they’re not necessarily people I would keep up with over the phone or text. When I think about those more distant friendships, I feel like the pandemic has contributed to an overall loss of connection.”
With the unpredictability of the pandemic, some Amherst students expressed that it became difficult to keep in touch with people if they were not sure the next time they would be able to see them again, particularly with the potential risks of traveling. Katie Crum ’21 expressed the difficulty of maintaining friendships in such an uncertain time, despite wanting to keep in touch with Amherst friends: “It was harder to stay in touch with Amherst acquaintances and more distant friends that I wasn’t living with while remote because we just weren’t sure the next time we would see each other.”
However, some Amherst students are finding alternative methods for connection and communication that they may not have utilized before Covid. “Managing friendships during the pandemic has definitely changed my approach to how I use phone calls. I used to never call friends on the phone but now I’ve started trying to quickly call friends as I do work, go for a walk, or have a break in between classes,” said Rahn. Though a phone call is not the same as talking to someone in-person, these small strategies to keep in touch may become more meaningful because they display effort and intention within relationships.
Some students also felt their close friendships were fortified by phone calls because they could still pick up where they left off and chat about their lives. Strong relationships might become particularly apparent in a time where not much is happening in one’s life because of the pandemic and social-distancing measures, but there is still plenty to talk about with each other when reaching out. Crum also agreed that her friendships became more meaningful: “Because of the mental toll that the pandemic took, it was harder to stay in frequent touch with people, but it also reinforced strong friendships, because when we did talk, it felt like nothing had changed.”
It is essential to consider how the pandemic has impacted each Amherst student differently. While it might be unrealistic to preserve every Amherst connection, one simple text message or phone call often goes a long way, particularly to someone who might be experiencing hardship during this difficult time. And while it might seem strange to reach out to someone you were not especially close with, this gesture is often appreciated more than one would think.
“Maintaining friendships during this time depends on our ability to be creative about forging connections. At times, we must suspend our own viewpoint in order to understand where other people are coming from, particularly when considering the different relationships individuals hold with the pandemic,” said Kiera Alventosa ’21.
I have found Alventosa’s words become increasingly true for myself within the past year. As a senior graduating this spring, I often missed the many connections I forged at Amherst prior to Covid. Last semester, I lived off-campus with four of my close friends and felt our bond was only strengthened during this time together. However, I also felt a sense of loss and wondered what had happened to the larger network of relationships I fostered at Amherst. Now, I am back on campus for my last semester, and I already feel a surprising joy come over me each time I run into a familiar face I hadn’t seen in months.
However, many of my friends have not returned to campus, and I do feel an overwhelming sense of sadness because of their absence. I have never been great at texting, even prior to Covid, and have found myself struggling with using texting as my only form of communication with some of my friends. Especially a year into the pandemic, I find constantly being on my phone exhausting and even detrimental to my mental health, as I am sure others do.
Yet, I have learned that being bad at communicating is no excuse for not being there for friends during this trying time. Each person can find a way of communication that works for them. Personally I find that scheduling weekly or monthly Facetime calls with my off-campus friends has worked much better for me than texting. Even though maintaining every Amherst relationship is unrealistic, a small, simple gesture can go a long way in preserving those connections that might otherwise become distant. Many of my friends and I have found that maintaining Amherst friendships throughout Covid requires empathy, where we must consider the pandemic’s impact on others and what we can do to be there for each other during this time.