Students adapt to virtual social life, create apps for connection

Weekly club meetings, late nights at the library and catching up with friends on Speedway are all part of the usual social atmosphere on campus. However, because of current Travis County orders prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people, most of campus social life will be virtual this fall.

After UT-Austin’s reopening plan was released on June 29, a few students and campus departments began creating online resources to help create that virtual social life.

“A lot of the things that would normally make up the fabric of life on our campus aren’t going to be the same (anymore),” said Sara Kennedy, director of strategic and executive communications for the Office of the Dean of Students. “It’s just not safe for some of the things that you enjoy to look the way they did before.”

The University created the website Longhorn Connection to share virtual events as well as wellness and social tips with students. The site also has spaces to share playlists and a submissions-based community mural currently featuring baby Yoda, pet hamsters, dogs and cats.

After feeling lonely and disconnected from their friends and campuses, business junior Amerison Shrestha and Brandon Walter, a University of Texas at San Antonio student, were motivated to create the UT Social app.

“After a couple of weeks (in quarantine), I realized that it was very difficult to connect with campus, and it just didn’t feel like I went to UT anymore,” Shrestha said.

The app will have a community wall where students can have open discussions or share ideas and resources. Shrestha said they plan on adding a study-buddy feature where students can find others taking the same class. They also want to add a space to serve as a marketplace for students to buy or sell items.

“I’d say it’s like a social hub for UT,” Shrestha said. “It would be really helpful for (students) to have an app they can rely on to narrow (down) what’s happening on campus, what’s happening on Speedway and what’s the latest trend.”

The iOS beta version of the app is currently available for download and the full version releases in the app and play stores Sept. 20.

The 1,100 various student organizations on campus also typically serve as a way for students to connect with each other. Now, most of them have rethought what their recruitment process and social events will look like in the fall.

Blake Turney, president of Texas Quidditch and mathematics junior, said the organization has been impacted by the loss of in-person practices and games. Now, they try to organize regular Zoom meetings where they play games like Kahoot! and catch up with each other to maintain the connections they already have.

“It has a little bit of a damper on our plans with the social aspect because half of our org is geared to having different kinds of social (events),” Turney said.

As students and faculty prepare to step back on the Forty Acres this fall, Shrestha said finding community is going to be essential.

“It’s really important to have that sense of community right now because if you don’t, there can be a lot of mental health implications,” Shrestha said. “It’s important to have a group of people to rely on and have a sense of belonging and a community.”

By Anissa Reyes
Illustration by Barbra Daly

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