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Inside Beat

'Zoom University' shouldn't stop us from forming meaningful friendships

While college students may not be able to see one another due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic this year, Zoom allows students to remain connected and substantiate meaningful friendships, even in the most unlikely circumstances.  – Photo by Zoom / Instagram

One of the things I adore the most about college is making friends from class. The transition from replying to each other’s points in class to riding the bus together before lectures to friendship is just as beautiful as falling in love. 

This development usually happens slowly, and then, without even realizing it, you’re partying next to them and laughing about how you met in a "Nature of Politics" lecture. 

I used to think that "Zoom University" would make it impossible to create and substantiate meaningful friendships, and that I would have to mourn an entire year's worth of lost potential besties.

But thankfully, I was wrong. 

The Zoom friendship I never saw coming started on the first day of classes. My classmates and I were put into breakout rooms to discuss what we were most excited to learn about in the course. 

After conversing with my peers, I returned back to the repopulated main screen, where a girl with blue eyes and dark hair spoke about imposter syndrome and how she felt like she didn’t belong in our class. The white strip of text on the small box that appeared on my screen revealed her name: Madison.

Hearing this from her came as such a surprise to me. With two years of political science classes under my belt, the first thing I learned was that, more often than not, these classes were insufferable.

Most of my classmates were aggressively competitive students that would do anything to impress professors to get their prized letter of recommendation or internship opportunity — a stark difference from my women’s and gender studies courses, which emphasized fostering an inclusive learning community. 

I was so used to keeping my guard up and getting ready to impress the professor more than any of those political science guys who play devil’s advocate, that I forgot what it was like to just be myself in a political science course. 

Madison brought something to the discussion that was so lost from all of my previous political science classes: humility. I truly believe she, along with the other students in my class, allowed us to cultivate a digital environment that was fun and interesting instead of burdensome and annoying. 

From there, Madi and I both picked up on each other’s class comments, and would frequently like each other’s messages on GroupMe. I don’t remember who privately messaged the other one first, but we quickly went from texting each other in the class group chat to texting each other before, during and after class. 

What started off as shared smirks across the Zoom screen and turning off our cameras to laugh out loud, blossomed into a beautiful friendship of socially distanced coffee dates and talking about anything, from political theory to our parents. 

Meeting up in person for our first socially distanced rendezvous was a little bit freaky, though. Being so far behind a screen from someone is an alienating experience. On screen, you can control how you’re perceived — in person, you just have to pray you look cute. 

I found myself feeling exposed and self-conscious about the way I looked. I was really insecure.

“Does she think I look uglier than how I appear on Zoom?" I thought to myself. It was weird to see her face without seeing mine simultaneously. 

But after I got over that initial shock, the conversation flowed easily. We went to my spiritual stomping grounds (Voorhees Mall) and ate Tacoria, discussing our classmates and our readings and our lives and our experiences. 

No, the friendship didn’t start in the halls of a Rutgers building, but it’s one of my favorite friendships right now. Madi makes Zoom school genuinely fun for me. 

I don’t think Zoom or GroupMe are the responsible parties for the beginnings of such a wonderful relationship. Would I credit Hickman Hall or the LX bus for the relationships I made in classes of the past? 

What Madi taught me (other than how to rock black eyeliner and take myself less seriously) is that above all, human connections are what make life so special. Somehow in the fortress of zeros and ones, of heavy political theory, of 10 a.m. classes on Monday mornings, I made a friend that I truly love spending time with.

Perhaps it’s because I watched “WALL-E” over the weekend or because we’re living in what I feel is a dystopian era dictated by massive corporations, but lately the titular lovable robot has been on my mind.

In the film, WALL-E is the only robot of his kind to survive — the rest of those like him didn’t make it. He works hard daily, has a cute self-care routine and uses the parts of his dead coworkers to keep himself alive (ew).

But the most important thing WALL-E does is make his life meaningful by continuing to feel and express emotion, which is what I believe separated him from the rest. He swoons at his favorite film, befriends a cockroach and even rocks himself to sleep in a home that is filled with lost things. 

If we’re going to make it through another virtual semester, it’s going to require making and maintaining human relationships and emotions, just like WALL-E did. 

So laugh at your professor's jokes, even if they’re not that funny. Respond to discussion threads with as much gusto as possible. Find the Madis of the Zoom classes and stick with them. My semester was rough to say the least, but making such a cool friend definitely made it worth it. 

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