We’re all trying to be social again after a year of keeping our distance from friends, family, and workplaces. There are awkward moments—what to say, how not to just talk after a year of so many things to say.
For teenagers—indeed, all kids—time with their peers is a crucial piece of development. Now, as college officials begin planning for the return to some normalcy on campuses this fall, they’re worried about how students will handle the re-entry to college life.
Last week, I moderated a virtual “salon dinner” for a small group of vice presidents of student affairs at a range of residential colleges and universities. The conversation was off-the-record, but a few agreed afterwards to allow their comments to be used here as long as I didn’t name them or their institutions.
What’s happening: The student affairs leaders who participated in the conversation are particularly concerned about the incoming freshmen this fall.
- The Class of 2021 lost not only regular in-person learning during a chunk of their junior year and all of their senior year of high school, but also extracurricular and social activities, such as proms, sports, and simply hanging out.
- Those last years of high school are a period when students typically experiment with alcohol and sex. While Gen Z (those born since 1995) were as a cohort less likely to drink and have sex in high school compared to previous generations, according to experts, rates of binge drinking and sexual assault hadn’t declined in college pre-pandemic.
Why it matters: The concern among those in student affairs—and even some parents of recent graduates—is that these pandemic teenagers didn’t have a chance to exercise their social development and evolve in their maturity over the last 15 months.
- “There’s a lot of pent-up demand to do things and the first chance they’ll really be able to do that is this fall on campus,” said one vice president at a public university in the Northeast.
- Another from a private college with fraternities described what he’s expecting this fall as a scene from Animal House, the 1978 movie about a trouble-making fraternity at fictional Faber College.
- A related worry: vaccinations. “Remember, teenagers are lagging behind the general population in getting vaccinated,” another vice president at a regional public university said. “We saw spikes in the virus last year as our students socialized. Now with most of the restrictions off, our community could become a real hot spot.”
By the numbers: The consequences of college-going students being cooped up with parents and siblings and hitting pause on their social development is still unclear. A very unscientific poll that I took about this question on LinkedIn recently among my 500,000 followers garnered more than 700 responses: