In the pages of the Daily Texan, opinion columnists Julia Zaksek and Natalie Taylor have written forcefully about the UT administration’s failure to promote friendship equity among the student body. When countries like Britain have taken the bold step of appointing a Minister of Loneliness to combat the “the sad reality of modern life,” UT’s failure to ensure that all students can enjoy the fundamental right of friendship is a moral travesty. And though the critiques and suggestions offered by Zaksek and Taylor are steps in the right direction, it’s not clear that they go far enough.
Plan II promises a tight-knit “school within a school” but delivers a hollow facade of community, argues Julie Zaksek in her April 2019 piece. In the face of this failure, “Plan II program directors need to take an active role in creating and facilitating events that foster the community students were promised,” state Zaksek. Unfortunately, the suggestions she offers for such events are the same milquetoast affairs that have been tried for years: social mixers, class retreats, and on-campus events.
Natalie Taylor offers an equally bleak view of the student experience in UT dining halls: isolating spaces where most of the students are just “feeling so lonesome and depressed” and where ear thimbles, ahem, excuse me, AirPods and iPhones provide an escape from the awkwardness of human interaction.
Taylor’s suggested remedy to this post-modern alienation hellscape full of (i)phonies: conversation starters on each table in UT’s dining halls.
Conversation starters? Seriously!? To quote Kourtney Kardashian “[Natalie], there’s people that are dying.” And you want to stop at conversation starters!?
A recent meta-analysis of 70 scientific publications on loneliness has found that being lonely increases your likelihood of mortality by 26%. Other publications have linked loneliness to a weakened immune system and insomnia. In other words, loneliness lurks the dorms and dining halls of UT, slowly killing our students.
It is time to face the brutal truth. As history demonstrates, extreme threats call for even more extreme reactions: UT must institute a policy of friendship Fortnite on campus.
The concept is simple and borrows much from the popular video game. One day each month, students on campus will hear a horn sound, after which UT’s administrators will join hands encircling the campus (we have more than enough administrators to make this work). Over the course of the day, the administrators will slowly tighten the circle, forcing the students into ever-greater physical proximity and increasing their opportunities for authentic social interactions.
As discussed above, the threat of loneliness is dire, so it makes sense that the stakes of friendship Fortnite should be equally high. To escape the circle, students will need to prove that they have made a new friend (administrators will, of course, have to conduct a thorough review of both students’ social media accounts to ensure that they were not already friends). Those friendless few who remain in the circle at the end of the day will be given the choice of immediate expulsion or being transformed into an albino squirrel as a sacrifice to the greater good.
It is time to stop with the niceties, the politics of normalcy that surround the debate about loneliness on campus. We must learn from our own experience when dealing with this problem. As all of us can surely agree from our experience at UT orientation, if students cannot be authentic on their own, we must create contrived events that foster authenticity and force them to attend.