On Finding and Building Community

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a part of a community. Finding community is a meaningful experience, but it can also be quite difficult at times. I share my thoughts on connecting with others as we continue our transition into this school year.

By Madeleine Lee September 28, 2021
Blog post - On Finding and Building Community

This semester greets us with a renewed sense of excitement to meet new people and form meaningful connections with those around us. It was a bit more challenging to get to know other students given the virtual format of classes last year. We missed out on the routine chitter-chatter in lecture halls before professors took the stage and mini reunions with friends during brief gaps in our busy schedules. Now, I can feel our campus buzzing with conversation and enthusiasm as students seek out ways to find and build community.

During the first several weeks of classes, I have been able to connect with different folks – both new and old – about our thoughts on heading into this academic year. The general consensus has been that this past month has been refreshing yet overwhelming. This makes sense. Many students are not only balancing academics with personal commitments but also meeting people all the time, which can drain our personal social batteries fairly quickly.

This is the first year that some students are stepping foot on campus or for the first time in more than a year for others. There is more to our days than logging on and off our computers. We are surrounded by people we want to meet, connect with, and learn from. However, it can be daunting to make steps towards finding people and spaces that we can identify with and consider communities.

For this reason, I would like to share some reminders as we continue to navigate this school year.

Try Entering Your Learning Zone

There is a joke going around campus that everyone is 10 times more social than before because we missed out on socializing with one another for the past year. While this is a bit of an exaggeration, there is some truth to this. I often see students introducing themselves to one another – whether during week one or week four of classes – and carving out time in their schedules to meet up with others or attend events that interest them. In doing so, students are taking small steps out of their comfort zones and transitioning into their learning zones, or changing up their everyday routines in order to learn and grow. We each hold the power to make small changes towards our learning zones, such as striking up a conversation with a classmate or asking to tag along to an event that our hallmates are going to. There are so many of us who have yet to find out or rediscover what community means at the university, and we are here to help one another.

Find Purpose in What You Do

Sharing purpose with others is a great way to find and build community. The University of Michigan offers a wide range of courses, student organizations, events, jobs, and opportunities to discover and develop your interests, as well as take part in meaningful, purposeful activities. When you do what you enjoy, you are bound to meet people who share these same interests. I find it worthwhile to ask myself the following questions once in a while: What is important to you? What brings you joy? After answering these questions, I have a clearer understanding of what I want to get out of this semester and where I want to focus my energy and time in terms of finding community.

Create Space for Everyone 

Whether you are a first-year student looking to meet new people or a senior reestablishing the communities you have been a part of for the past few years, everyone wants to feel valued in the spaces they take part in. While it is important to find community at U-M, it is equally important to build community for others as well. I have come to realize that the most meaningful communities I am and have been a part of reinforce the idea that all people, voices, and perspectives are valued. I feel empowered when I know that I am heard, seen, and appreciated. By creating space for everyone, we not only expand the communities we are a part of but also reaffirm everyone’s belonging in these spaces.

As the year begins to pick up speed, it is also important to give yourself the time and space necessary to adjust to the new demands of an in-person semester. Remember to take care of yourself and give yourself grace as you continue to find and build community. I am rooting for you!

Madeleine Lee
Madeleine Lee

Madeleine Lee is a junior in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and plans to study at the intersection of health and social justice. Outside of the classroom, she conducts research at the Kellogg Eye Center and is a member of the Vice President for Student Life Advisory Board. She is an Ann Arbor native and in her free time, you can find her running, reading, or snapping photos.