Online connections for socialization take new forms during COVID-19

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COVID-19 regulations have put a crimp in the social aspects of college life, but some Ohio State students, faculty and staff said they have figured out ways to stay connected beyond class during this separation. Credit: Mateusz Slodkowski / SOPA Images via TNS

A squashed vision of meeting friends in classes, going to club meetings and other social engagements when returning to Ohio State this fall led Riley Ernst and other Ohio State students to learn that meaningful connections could still be made virtually. 

COVID-19 regulations crimped the social aspects of college life, but some Ohio State students, faculty and staff figured out ways to stay connected beyond class during this separation — including virtual yoga classes, game nights and video calls they hope to continue after the pandemic. 

“It can be challenging to keep people engaged virtually, but it is important to do so,” Ernst, a third-year in health sciences and public management, said. “Offering unique ways to stay connected is a nice change of pace from sitting and staring at each other through a screen.” 

Ernst said hosting a virtual yoga class every week for her sorority, Alpha Chi Omega, allowed her to stay active. She said the activity also kept people in her sorority connected during the semester when COVID-19 regulations made it hard to hold in-person events.

“I wanted to create a space where people could log on and decompress, get their bodies moving and find community,” Ernst said. “Yoga was something that came to mind quite easily.”

Instead of staying connected through virtual yoga, Jess Menke, a second-year in education, said socializing online turned into virtual game nights. 

Menke said Kingmakers Board Game Parlour, a game center in the Short North, closed its in-person store but offered interactive online board games where she and her friends stayed connected. She said she felt like online board games are an experience that makes the distance between people smaller. 

“I have joined a few times when I was feeling disconnected to people and reality, and this experience really made me happy,” Menke said. “I would love it if this game night stuck around once normal life begins again.” 

Some faculty and staff said they stayed connected to others through video chatting apps, which they didn’t appreciate much until the pandemic hit. 

Alisa Ballard Lin, an assistant professor in the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures, said she stayed connected to her out-of-state family through frequent FaceTime calls. 

“I have talked to extended family who live out of state way more regularly than I used to, and that has been a great thing,” Lin said. “We text more and have a lot more video calls with them now than we did before.” 

Lin said she hopes to continue using virtual connections even after the pandemic.

“I place a lot more value on those virtual connections now since I have not been able to have in-person connections,” Lin said.