Let me begin with appreciation and thanks to our Chapman faculty and staff. Although I can’t see you face to face, I see your work more clearly than ever online and in my zoom calls with you. I love hearing about your incredibly creative online teaching methods and ambitious timely research, much of which is still being conducted in collaboration with Chapman students. I know our staff and administration are also busy serving and in touch with our students.
What does your continued commitment to providing personalized education at Chapman have to do with loneliness? We know loneliness can affect student learning, and we’ve been hearing about a crisis of loneliness among young people for some time. Causes proposed have ranged from shifting to a new setting to the increase in social media use, which although purported to connect people, instead often increases the feeling of loneliness. Other causes include a lack of personal satisfaction, or feeling unseen or unnoticed. For many, loneliness may stem from an error in perception due to a tendency to pay attention to the negative. So you see the bad news: right now, we find ourselves in completely new settings, many of us relying heavily on such methods as social media to connect with one another, which in turn influences our perceptions toward the negative.
I’ve been reading research on loneliness trends and spoke with colleagues in Religious Life, Psychologists and staff of the Student Psychological Counseling Services at Chapman, and learned loneliness is defined in various ways, depending upon the school of thought of the researcher. “Frankly, we were stunned,” state researchers in a study published just last month by the Springtide Research Institute. In their report on the increasing experience of loneliness among 13-25 year-olds, “Belonging: Reconnecting America’s Loneliest Generation,” loneliness is defined as “a persistent state of being in which a person feels isolated, unsupported, and without close friends.” Investigators expected young people to be able to describe “where” they felt a sense of belonging. Instead, the young people pushed back to tell them “who” created a sense of belonging for them.
The presence of one or more trusted adults in a young person’s life was revealed as one of the strongest determining factors related to young people feeling noticed, feeling named, and feeling known. A relative, a friend, a teacher, a mentor. A follow-up study conducted in late March on the effects of social distancing on young people further confirmed this finding, showing that nearly 8 out of 10 young people feel less lonely when a trusted adult from outside their own household has connected with them. Psychologists agree this can include just the experience of knowing someone is there you can talk to, even if you don’t that often.
The good news is one antidote among young people to loneliness does not depend either upon being face-to-face or even on campus. Chapman University has had the foundation for this all along, with our emphasis on personalized education.
So if you’ve been hesitant to make that phone call or send that email to check on a student or any young person, go ahead and do it. Turns out one solution to loneliness is you, it is all of us! Thank you to each of you who are trusted adults in the lives of our students.