The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered the social lives of college students across the country. College, normally a time when students are finally away from the supervision of parents and claim the ability to explore a newfound freedom, has taken a different form this year.
On Nov. 16, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered restrictions requiring New Mexican residents to only be in contact with people they live with and only leave their residence for essential trips. The order was in response to the drastic spike in COVID-19 positive cases in New Mexico.
The restrictions on social gatherings have provoked students to find new ways to socialize with their peers.
“Technology has proven that despite current restrictions, connecting with a friend is just a tap away,” Cameron Sandoval, a senior at the University of New Mexico, said.
Not all students are staying connected online, though — some have chosen to see their friends in person despite the governor’s orders amid the highest virus levels the state has seen since the pandemic began.
“I’m disregarding the order to only see people from your household. I think it’s a big reach into my rights as an American citizen, to be completely honest with you,” Emma Holets, a junior at UNM, said. “I am still being cautious about asking if people are still feeling well before I see them, but as far as not seeing people outside of the household, I am not obeying that order.”
However, others are being more cautious and attempting to limit socialization with people outside of their household. Deianira Mason, a UNM junior, said she has taken up safety measures like wearing masks or staying six feet away from others and restricted her social circle to a select few.
“I only see two of my friends and my family. My friends and I make sure that we are safe when hanging out ... and when we go out, we always wear a mask,” Mason said.
According to Inside Higher Ed, the social limitations that the pandemic has put on college students has negatively impacted their mental health. This is a direct result of abrupt changes to students’ social lives, such as the inability to attend in-person classes, eat lunch with friends at the Student Union Building and attend any in-person extracurricular activities.
“At first, things were difficult because of rapid inclines in cases and deaths — I was nervous about various things. Once the months passed, I told myself to calm down and breathe,” Sandoval said. “My mental health took a dip over the summer because of the overwhelming amount of restrictions and information that was appearing around COVID.”
Mason agreed that although she’s able to see her family, it’s not enough social interaction to make up for what life used to be like.
“Before the pandemic hit, my mental health was in a good state, but once the pandemic hit, I have noticed it’s taken a toll,” Mason said. “Not being able to see people and interact with others outside my family has been very different and hard.”
Worsening mental health is part of the reason some students have decided to disregard the stay at home order and hang out with friends.
“I would say the beginning of COVID had a really big impact on my (mental) health, because no one knew anything,” Holets said. “It’s hard to stay happy when you’re isolated, which is why eventually I just started going out and seeing my friends again.”
Despite abrupt changes to students’ social landscape, there is always help waiting for anyone who needs it, and Sandoval urged other students to ask for it if they need it.
“I recommend that people reach out for help if they’re feeling isolated. Listen to music, take a walk, talk with a friend, get some exercise,” Sandoval said. “Eventually we’ll slowly return to a new normal.”
Hannah John is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @yesitshannahj