Social Life At NYU: Are We Alone Among Many?

Some say New York is a lonely city. The population density, the busy streets – they all hide the kind of strange loneliness that can strike you while somewhere as mundane as the subway. You pause while pausing your iPod and realize that you are alone in a packed Q train car, alone in a borough, alone in a city so crowded with people that you struggle to find an empty street block. New York can be the most profound and persistent example of feeling “alone among many.”

Naturally, NYU’s microcosmic relationship to New York City means that it possesses that same potential for loneliness. And though NYU provides us with many university outlets for events, there is still an undeniable feeling of being “alone” at some point during one’s undergraduate career. We discussed it here on NYU Local, after Maddi Gilje confessed that she was considering transferring out of the university that she once bubbled with excitement for on YouTube. However, many of us are perhaps quiet on the subject for fear that we are not adequately “experiencing” college-life the way that we are supposed to — maybe it’s my fault, we wonder. But one of the most ironic edges to the loneliness debates at NYU — what it means to be alone at this school, and how we could ever solve it — is the sense that NYU is a community of students struggling to feel a sense of community.

Some might blame the campus for this social disposition. Or maybe it’s that we don’t have a fratty nightlife. Maybe it’s our lack of a football team and a genuine “rah-rah,” campus-engulfing spirit (oh wait, we don’t have a campus). Most likely it’s a combination of our unique university life combined with the loneliness often associated with New York as a whole.

I have often wondered what – if any – solutions are available. What are we to do as a school to cultivate a wider sense of community?

Perhaps the answer lies with us, the students. Perhaps in light of the elements of our school that can erode away a sense of community (a lack of campus, etc.) we must take strides to create events that could help bring us together as a university. A student at Columbia mentioned that once a week a bar near their campus hosted “Senior Night,” where Columbia seniors could socialize together. But, if NYU students were to organize a weekly event like this, it wouldn’t include our huge population of underaged students (unless you happen to possess a killer fake). This is where the university could step in and provide larger social events – ones that don’t require sign ups and payment beforehand, ones that don’t cater to a special interest.

Of course there are complications and difficulties that arise with such event planning. The answer will never be simple. In the end, we attend a university that does not hand friendship to us on a silver platter. Oftentimes, one’s social life at NYU requires a level of maintenance that we may not be used to. It’s easy to feel and be isolated in our dorms spread out across lower Manhattan. It’s easy to go from class to class not extending a hand to truly meet one’s peers. It’s easy to not attend events that only seem present on flyers or emails since we don’t have a “campus.” It’s easy to feel alone at NYU because there is almost an inertia to the loneliness, one that we find ourselves going along with as we let the days slip past us each semester.

But us NYU students are of a tougher breed, forced to grow up a little bit faster than other college students. We are not incubated in a campus, we are not spoon-fed our social life by way of raging frat parties and football Saturdays. We advance into adulthood where smaller social circles are of the norm, and for many of us, it’s a hard change to accept. Until we or the university begin to plan events that engage the greater part of the student body, we’ll have to trust ourselves with our social lives and realize that simply being aware of our own loneliness is the first step towards breaking free from it.

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    17 Comments

  1. Anna Dutkowsky says

    Thank you for writing this! This is 100% true and it’s such a relief to know that I’m not the only one feeling this way. If only all of us lonely people could find a way to meet each other…

  2. Brianne Sperber says

    I know it sounds ridiculous, but I think people here just have to figure out where they fit in the community. I was so lucky to have found a club that I really enjoyed being a part of and have made friends through — I even met people who just came to our events and things we sponsored. NYU is best when you make your community and make it yours, picking and choosing different things about yourself that work and then finding friends who have similar interests, even if not all.

    One of the biggest issues is the stigmatization between schools. I find most of my friends are friends I made freshman year in classes or in GSP seminars. If I know people in Stern or Tisch, it’s because I knew them in GSP and they transferred in. This may just be personal experience, but I’ve found that the separation between schools and even the separation between big versus small majors determines your sense of community. Having an interdisciplinary major, I have never had class with the same person twice, unless it was planned.

    If NYU could somehow breakdown the barriers between schools, with a Senior Night like Columbia does, perhaps we could foster a community. We are 9 “distinct” schools in one university, often with little in common, and little time to create the community any of us thinks we want.

  3. Rachel Kunstadt says

    I know that NYU has a strict policy against this (look at a professor’s manual), but it would be helpful if NYU had some sort of class list- in many senses. If there were some sort of directory.. It’s virtually impossible to figure out someone’s NYU e-mail address- even if you know someone’s initials, it’s impossible to figure out those random numbers. Also, a class list in our actual classes would be helpful. The few people we know are in our residence halls, clubs, and classes, and it’s such a big school that if you search someone’s name on Facebook, at least 5 people will show up- with just a first name, you’ll never find anyone. If we knew our classmates’ names, what schools they’re in, their major, year, etc.- it sounds creepy, but it could actually be helpful. I have so many classes, even ones with 25 students, where I don’t know anyone’s names.

  4. Daphne Miller says

    Events like the one at Columbia happen because those students organize or inquire about them. For example, the Senior Class Council could go to a local bar and suggest it. Why would a bar not want to host a regular night like this? One of the things I notice about NYU students is that they want so much handed to them but they’re not necessarily willing to put in the work. I look at all of the programs RAs organize and how little residents attend. And even when they are specifically asked what programs they want to do, they give little advice. If you think there is no community now, wait until you get out in the real world where there aren’t tons of programs planned every day free or at little cost.

  5. Ian Rust says

    The main problem is that its just so hard to have a legitimate party here. I know the lack of frats is pointed out as an issue, but really it seems to be harder and harder to get into bars (not to mention they’re also so expensive, plus you need to invest like $125 for a decent fake) and the only real dorm “parties” are really just small get togethers. Anything bigger than 10-15 people gets crashed by R.As (though once I was at one with at least 30, beer pong, and tequila and it was fine – so i guess we broke many of Local’s “don’t get caught by RAs” rules… if anyone actually remembers those) I wish we could have some form of open parties in the dorms (near impossible) or apartments or house parties, it’d be easier to foster a since of community. Also, I find drugs/alcohol in conjunction with socializing as the best ways to combat loneliness.

  6. Cici Chen says

    Thanks God it’s not just me… I’m in such a dilemma. On one hand I love all the opportunities NYU/NYC offers, on the other hand I hate how I’m not having a traditional college life.

  7. says

    I have always been puzzled by the claim that we do not have a campus. I visited a school with a “campus” when I was deciding where to go to college. It was a 20 minute walk to class from the dorm, and this was through the woods, up hills, over footbridges, all in awful weather, and it would have taken even longer if you lived “off-campus.” (The school was Cornell). Lafayette is one of the farthest dorms from Campus and it is about a 20 minute walk to class in Washington Square, or a quick shot on the Q if you have class near Union Square. The only difference between schools with “campuses” and NYU is that in between those “campus” buildings are lawns, “quadrangles,” trees etc. and in between NYU buildings is, well, New York. At least we have public transportation when it snows.

    Do Columbia students actually go to something called “senior night?” Good God. The reason that sort of thing isn’t organized down here is because no one would go to it, not because we feel alienated from a sense of “community,” but because we are way too cool for that. In fact, NYU does organize events like this, but they are poorly attended because you kids all have better things to do. Remember the black light ball? http://nyulocal.com/on-campus/2010/04/16/nyu-local-banned-from-bun-week/

    Ian raises a good point, though, that the way our school is structured leaves little room for “legitimate” parties to happen. Literally, you can’t fit too many people in a dorm room without getting flagged by RAs. You either need to make friends with someone who lives off campus and has a decent sized roof, or a decent sized apartment in brooklyn, or you need to pregame furiously in your room and relocate to the “recreation” areas in the basement of your dorms. We all noted at the “Black light Ball” that the basement of 3rd North had serious potential for a rave if only more people had showed up. Otherwise, you’re stuck with scavenging for lenient bars or finagling “dorm parties.” Dismal prospects? Go do your homework.

  8. AJ Marechal says

    A brief response to the “no campus” notion…while it is true that our “commute time” is comparable to colleges with expansive campuses (like Cornell), what makes our experience different is the lack of continuity (if you will) between dorm and class…as someone who lives in Lafayette, once I get a few blocks south of 4th street on my way home I no longer feel like I’m at “NYU.” I’m now just in NYC. There is a cohesiveness even to huge campuses because they are contained. Our non-campus does not have this cohesiveness precisely because of our surroundings during our walks from dorm (or apartment) to campus. This isn’t an intrinsically “bad” thing, some would consider it a good thing — but in terms of creating a sense of NYU community, its a challenge we as students face.

    This piece was cut down, but other elements I believe can also prove challenging for wanting that “big social life” feeling — the cabs we take everywhere have limited seating, our dorms are mostly apartment style and thus encourage more intimate socializing rather than floor socializing (doors open to bedrooms, welcoming others in…I barely had those days freshman year). Parties are definitely something that we don’t have much of. the Black Light Ball is different than “senior night” at columbia because the black light ball was held in an NYU dorm, where as senior night for those students was — from what i understand — held at a popular bar in the area. The venue difference is crucial in attracting student attendance.

    Anyways, great discussions.

  9. Michael Embrey says

    I can’t help but echo many of the points of dissent in regards to this article. NYU as an institution is quite aware of all the problems us as students in this environment can face in regards to loneliness and I think it’s done a great job in terms of making sure it provides the necessary resources for people on almost every level I can think of. There’s Kimmel with all of its information on student life, there’s the club fair and all of welcome week, there’s all the intramural sports and sports classes we have on campus, just to name a few, and if you don’t like any of those there are plenty of opportunities to create your own.

    Also the residential life for those on campus has tons to offer as well. They host events on a campus wide basis, a hall wide basis, and on floors. RAs do quite a bit in regards to helping out and making sure people have community. You can run for hall embassy or student goverment and even if you don’t win you can still attend those meetings to voice your opinion and meet new people.

    Even when studying abroad, I found quite a few ways to meet people either through similar cultural issues or classes and the administration abroad were pretty great in terms of making us know each other, whether we liked it or not.

    For those of you who state that alcohol and underage drinking fosters community, there is a great deal of under the table community. I can’t disagree more that alcohol is necessary to build community but for those who state they need liquid courage or from other substances, move on to another route and realize that building friends off of those types of habits won’t build lasting relationships anyways.

    NYU is quite upfront as to how it’s set up. I learned from right off the bat on a campus tour that it is set up differently than your typical ra ra college campus. Anyone who applied here should have known what they were getting into and shame on those who didn’t do the necessary footwork.

    So for those who say that they can’t find community, I say that they haven’t tried hard enough. If you haven’t said hi to people in classes, gone to club fairs and welcome weeks or to any of the plethora of events thrown on campus, than go out and do those things. You know your interests and likes more than anyone else and NYU and the greater New York City community can help you foster them. All the options are available and waiting for you, all you have to do is go out and start doing them. If you feel like you’re not socially conscious enough, the health center with a whole host of qualified counselors can help you. This is not an attack to people who feel lonely but a wake up call that the answer lies in your hands.

    I say this in no official role but only as an informed student and my opinions are my own and not of any NYU institution.

  10. Spargo Postle says

    Hello,

    I just googled to try and find the book I have just published, titled Alone Among Many, and came across this thread…

    Being lonely, isolated, not quite fitting in, is something that unfortunately never quite goes away… Not just where you are now and not just at this age and certainly not because of a campus / not a campus…

    It has always been there, remember you first day at high school… What should have been one of our most exciting days is usually one our most fraught… When we start a job, it’s back; if it ever went away…

    Being alone among many is something we will experience many times through our lives… But always remember we, we lonely, we are many… Find a way of connecting…

    I know this is an old post, and I am not part of your community, but it is one that should be kept at the top of everyone’s agenda… Be creative and find a way of reducing the times for people to be more lonely or isolated than they should be…

    Love Ya, Spargo Postle.
    (Alone Among Many – http://www.createspace.com/3685601)

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