The following article contains references to sexual assault, trauma and mental illness.
Intoxicated and high, she was pulled away from a night out with her friends back to her apartment, brought her into her own home, and sexually assaulted.
“It was my first semester here; I was raped,” said M, a WVU senior English student who prefers not to be identified except by an initial. “I told a few friends about it, but those friends still chose to be friends with him.”
Feeling lonely on campus is not uncommon, whether it is caused by homesickness, grappling with personal mental health complications, or simply not having found where they fit in on campus. For M, perceiving that her friends abandoned her, and being sexualy assualted by someone she trusted, left her feeling lonelier than ever before.
M said as a victim of sexual assault, she already felt intense loneliness; however, despite sharing what had happened to her, her friends chose to stay friends with her assailant. She began distancing herself from them and said she felt betrayed by those she thought cared for her. During that time, she turned to partying and drugs.
“I probably partied more, experimented with drugs more; I still tried to socialize but it was very different,” she said. “There are a large portion of students who do coke and party. I was doing it and then going to Kroger. I was leaving class and doing it.”
M said while she has grown and worked toward moving past that part of her life, it still impacts her life.
“Actually, last fall, so a year later, I had a class with him,” she said. “He came in late and sat behind me and stared at me. I dropped the class.”
While struggling to learn to trust those around her and turning to substance abuse, she said she still found a way to prioritize her education and maintain her GPA.
Now six months clean, she is on her way to graduating from WVU, has slowly learned to trust those around her and has found a group of friends that she can rely on. M said she has found ways to come out of a dark and lonely time in her life.
“I tried quitting for a long time, because I did it pretty heavy for about 18 months,” she said. “Time helped a lot. I had close friends I could talk to about it.”
This student is not the only one who has had to learn to overcome isolation and loneliness on campus.
“I live right in the middle of Sunnyside,” said Hailey Seamon, a junior music student. “Sometimes if there are parties going on all around me and I am not at one it is that weird feeling of feeling left out.”
Last spring, Seamon said she felt lonely because she was not friends with any of her roommates, one of her closest friends was studying abroad, and she has recently gotten out of a serious relationship.
During that time, Seamon said she hit a low point, and tried to fill her time to avoid feeling alone. She said she spent time working and taking night classes to feel less isolated, and eventually learned to enjoy spending time with herself.
“It made me feel like I was wasting my youth,” Seamon said. “I used that time in my life to help me learn how to value my time even when I am alone, so now it helps me appreciate the time I spend with friends and the time I am alone.”
While there may be several causes for students to feel lonely, Robert, a sophomore environmental geoscience student, loneliness comes simply from being on a large college campus. Robert did not wish for his full name to be used in the article.
“It is a huge campus and even people you know could still be really far away,” he said. “It has helped me learn how to spend time with myself.”
While those classmates and friends made throughout college may impact a student’s experience on campus, loneliness can come from personal struggle as well.
T. Anne Hawkins, The Carruth Center clinical director, said many students on campus struggle with mental illnesses. She said many of these struggles are what lead to the majority of students feeling disengaged.
“We have students who experience depression, anxiety, problems with homesickness, problems with managing their academic lives,” Hawkins said. “Anxiety on most college campuses could be the primary concern for students.”
Hawkins said several resources are available to students in need, including group, individual, and drug and alcohol counseling. She said one of the main initiatives on campus is to ensure students feel connected and included, and are able to find a sense of community.
“When we don’t feel well, it impacts everything we do,” Hawkins said.
One student, a female junior studying philosophy who preferred to remain anonymous, said she struggled with depression and anxiety long before coming to WVU.
“I do struggle with mental illness,” she said. “I had to struggle with anxiety and depression. It is just a very isolating illness in general.”
When she arrived at WVU, she had come from a small town out of state and only knew a few people on campus. At times, she said her struggles with depression became so intense, it caused her to consider transferring to a different school.
Despite having made friends through her major and band, she felt one of the biggest challenges was learning to open up to others about her emotions, including those she felt truly cared for her. She said band has been an outlet for her to overcome that challenge.
“That is one of the beautiful things about the music school here is you can reach out to someone,” she said. “It is just a matter of finding them. Finding them is the hard part.”