The importance of community on college campuses

By Olivia Rojas, News + Record Intern
Posted 8/25/21

I remember those first few months of college my freshman year. 

Everything was brand new — new location, new schedule and new friends. I felt awkward. It seemed like everyone had it …

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The importance of community on college campuses

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I remember those first few months of college my freshman year. 

Everything was brand new — new location, new schedule and new friends. I felt awkward. It seemed like everyone had it together while I did not. 

UNC-Chapel Hill is competitive, and nearly every student there buys into its overachiever culture. I went from being a top student at my high school to a university full of top students. How was I going to find my place? Would I make real connections here? I knew that the growing pains to acclimate to student life were a rite of passage and necessary, but that didn’t make it any less difficult to be on my own. 

One day, during one of my journalism classes, a professor offered advice to first-years about coming into a new space. He recalled his time living in New York and how it felt huge, but he mostly identified with the borough in which he lived.

“Find your neighborhood,” he said. 

A big part of Latino culture is community — without a doubt. It surrounded me while I was growing up. I had a strong pillar of support from my family, members of the church and even those family friends of a friend. I had obtained a village so early on in my life that I didn’t know what it was like to build one from the ground up. 

Every college student has a period of transition onto campus. It’s important to remember that college campuses house multicultural centers and organizations. They offer a wide range of resources and want to help you find a sense of belonging on campus because the truth is — you do belong. 

When I had to start from scratch in a completely different environment, I sought out those to whom I could relate and those with whom I had common interests. Luckily for me, the Carolina Latinx Center on campus just opened in its new location my first year, a chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists started on campus and Mi Pueblo, UNC’s Latinx organization, held multiple events where I could find community and meet new friends. I even joined The Daily Tar Heel and The Bridge, two publications on campus. 

I finally was able to find people who I could call my friends — and I mean real friends. The kind that you call when you need a ride to get groceries or whenever you need someone to sit with you in the library. Friends who all support each other while we wade through the realities of college life — the good, the bad and the embarrassing. That security also helped me realize that it’s OK to experience periods of loneliness. Time to yourself allows you to reflect and think about the people you really want in your network. 

Now that I am back at UNC, it has been so nice to see everyone again in person and I get to physically see the community that I have here on campus. There’s no more awkwardness and no more insecurity.

I’m so glad to say that I found my neighborhood.

News + Record intern Olivia Rojas is a part of the newspaper’s La Voz de Chatham reporting team. She’s a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill and lives in Sanford.

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