It’s no mystery to Varun Soni what’s going on with young people these days: They’re lonely. Soni is the dean of religious life at the University of Southern California (U.S.C.). Conversations that he’s had with students over the last five years have taken a “devastating” turn.
“Whereas students used to ask ‘How should I live?’ they are now more likely to ask ‘Why should I live’?” Soni writes in the Los Angeles Times. “Where they used to talk about hope and meaning; now they grapple with hopelessness and meaninglessness.”
He notes that an oft-cited 2018 study by Cigna says that the loneliest Americans are those between 18 and 22. Soni’s anecdotes back that up.
“I never got the question in my first five years at U.S.C. that I now get almost daily from students: ‘How do I make friends?’ Students may have thousands of friends online, but few in real life; they may be experts at talking with their thumbs, but not so much with their tongues.”
U.S.C., like a lot colleges and universities, has taken on the challenge, including offering a freshman course that focuses on building healthy relationships, self-care, resiliency and human flourishing.
“We also offer and host yoga classes, drum circles, friendship courses, community teas, coloring sessions, laughing groups, sleep classes, connection workshops, meditation retreats, campfire conversations and primal scream opportunities,” writes Soni. “We’ve recently appointed our first director of belonging, while our full-time wellness dog, Professor Beauregard Tirebiter (affectionately known as ‘Beau’) strolls the campus daily.”