Helping the lonely at universities like RU should be a priority

By Nathan Brown
Torch Correspondent

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Photo courtesy of Roosevelt University

Late last year, the United Kingdom appointed a Minister of Loneliness charged with lifting Britons from the woes of social isolation. And there were a lot of lonely people – about nine million, according to a long-term government commission report.

The lonely were seen across the country. They were young students, working parents, elderly homebodies and school children. Certain groups were particularly at risk: About half of individuals with disabilities reported being lonely on a given day and caretakers were particularly prone to feeling lonely.

Although the task of overseeing loneliness may bring to mind a solitary bureaucrat tucked away in a lonely tower, the office has an important job. Loneliness is associated with serious health consequences. According to the officer of Age UK, social isolation can have health consequences equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day. While loneliness may not give you emphysema, it can be dangerous.

So, where is Roosevelt’s “Minister of Loneliness?” With such a clear need to belong and an imperative to avoid excessive social isolation, shouldn’t this be a priority? After all, avoiding loneliness is not just about feeling good. Academic performance is also improved when there is a sense of community in the classroom. We tend to feel better when we make friendships, and even our immune system is stronger when we feel less lonely. When we feel that we don’t belong, we become less healthy, less happy and more stressed.

The six-year graduation rate at Roosevelt is just above 50 percent. There are many ways to tackle this problem, but I believe that we can increase that number by considering students’ sense of belonging. In other words, students might feel more motivated to stick around to receive their cap and gown if they felt like they truly belonged.

What would Roosevelt’s “Minister of Loneliness,” do? Here are some suggestions:

They could encourage students to more fully engage on campus. The Center for Student Involvement already does a heroic job organizing events, supporting student organizations and serving as a hub for community programs.

But, much more can be done in our community. Our proud minister could work with teachers to promote a sense of community in the classroom. Classroom discussions and group projects can be the beginning of life-long friendships. Commuter students could be integrated even more into the academic life of Roosevelt, whether in Chicago or Schaumburg.

The minister could team up with Fala the Laker (our university mascot for those of you who don’t know) to boost the numbers of students showing up to support our teams. They could arrange community service events and ongoing engagement with charitable organizations in our neighborhoods. The minister could follow the example of Britain by creating a robust “loneliness strategy” with input from a range of Roosevelt members.

Maybe it would help if we didn’t use the term minister – what if, instead, we created a “Chair of the Loneliness Department?” In any case, the need to belong is important. I think the members of this community would be better off if we made decreasing loneliness a priority at Roosevelt.

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