Loneliness is present at Occidental, but ‘no one ever talks about it’

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Loneliness
Aadhiya Jeharajah (senior) and Melissa Gnaedigner (senior) share that they are not lonely when they are together at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Nov 3, 2022. Grace Meadows/The Occidental

Much of the Oxy Confessions Instagram page describes students’ loneliness. One anonymous poster said they feel like they wasted their chance to have a social life, and like reaching out to former acquaintances would be unwelcome. Another anonymous post said that despite caring, they have no friends.

A 2021 study from Boston University found that two-thirds of university students struggle with loneliness or isolation.

The admin* of the Oxy Confessions Instagram page said they think the pandemic caused people’s social lives to suffer. During the height of quarantine, the online sphere was our entire reality, they said.

“[Some] people are having trouble relating in general to other people, in addition to feeling isolated or that there isn’t a group for them,” the Oxy Confessions admin said.

Riley Polaner (first year) said there is a lot of uncertainty for new students at Occidental.

Loneliness
Riley Polaner (first year) talks about how she finds comfort in knowing she does not have to be friends with everyone – that way, loneliness is less threatening – at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Nov 3, 2022. Grace Meadows/The Occidental

“You’re constantly surrounded by people,” Polaner said. “People might relate to you and might understand what you’re going through, but you haven’t had those conversations with them yet.”

Polaner said she was fortunate to have found a lot of people she feels comfortable around and who help her not feel so isolated.

“I know that’s not the experience for everybody,” Polaner said. “In the beginning, I was kind of like screw it — I’m going to talk to you.”

Ayva Sloo (sophomore) said she mostly felt like she was missing out because her friends would be out while she was not. Not doing anything with friends, she said, made her feel the most lonely.

“I try to always have plans,” Sloo said. “I love having full schedules.”

Sloo said she has experienced and will inevitably continue to experience loneliness throughout her time at Occidental, since sometimes there is simply nobody to spend time with.

“Those times will happen,” Sloo said. “It’s just something you get through, and then afterwards I think, ‘Next time, I’m going to make plans.’”

Aadhiya Jeharajah (senior) said her first year was her loneliest.

“I’m an international student, so [coming to Occidental] was a really big culture shock,” Jeharajah said. “Coming in, I wasn’t best friends with my roommate. I didn’t know the people on my floor. I just felt super isolated.”

Melissa Gnaedinger (senior) said her first year was also very lonely, but she found friendships as she spent more time at Occidental.

“I ended up finding a lot of my friends in my major,” Gnaedinger said. “Just by being solitary for a while, and then it just sort of happened.”

Maahir Uttam (senior) said he did not make many friends until his junior year.

Loneliness
Maahir Uttam (senior) alone in the Green Bean at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Nov 3, 2022. Grace Meadows/The Occidental

“I feel like I distracted myself by doing lots of things, like spending lots of time on school work or going to the gym,” Uttam said. “I had enough people to talk to, but I didn’t have any close friends.”

Uttam said he now has close friends, but still enjoys his alone time.

“Now, whenever I’m alone, I see it as an opportunity to be with myself for a bit,” Uttam said.

Uttam said loneliness can be a cycle people fall into, but the pandemic almost normalized isolation since nobody could control the situation.

When things are normal, and you’re lonely, you might think to some extent that it’s your fault, like, ‘Why am I not going out more or making more friends?’” Uttam said. “But during the pandemic, it was just different.”

There are different strategies students use to combat feelings of loneliness at Occidental.

Sloo said she enjoyed doing crossword puzzles, since they kept her busy when her other friends had plans and she had free time.

“I either did nothing or maybe treated myself,” Gnaedinger said. “I would just go to York and get something out to eat by myself and it would just be a little treat at the end of the week.”

Jeharajah said she would go watch a movie by herself if nobody else could join her, and sometimes would see other Occidental students going alone as well.

“No matter what year you are, you are always going to experience loneliness,” Jeharajah said. “It’s just getting used to it and learning to adapt. Everyone feels the exact same way, just no one ever talks about it.”

Emmons Wellness Center has a 24/7 confidential helpline for Occidental students experiencing emotional distress: (323) 341-4141.

Contact Kanaya Adams at kadams2@oxy.edu

*The identity of the anonymous student source has been withheld. For more information on anonymity, visit our Frequently Asked Questions.