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Autonomy or Loneliness? Dealing with the Independent Culture of NYU

"While the morning usually has me feeling proud of my autonomy, the coming of night morphs these feelings into loneliness and isolation."

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Walking from my dorm in Carlyle Court Residence Hall to campus each day, I do not focus on many faces that pass me. As I get closer to Washington Square Park, I notice more and more students lining each side of the street, but I don’t look beyond that; I rarely recognize any as I walk. After class, if I do decide to stop at a dining hall, I often take my food to go, returning to the solitude of my dorm where I watch Netflix as I eat. While the morning usually has me feeling proud of my autonomy, the coming of night morphs these feelings into loneliness and isolation.

With NYU’s total enrollment of almost 60,000 students, lack of a campus and absence of school spirit, it’s hard to feel a part of something. Whether due to NYU’s lack of a football team, limited Greek life or the the unavoidable effect of living in such a big place like New York City, where everyone is obsessed with career-planning, interning or working, NYU seems to require more personal autonomy — and potentially more loneliness. Perhaps because of the large student body, you need to be loud to be heard. The sheer number of students also makes it more difficult to make friends than at other universities, as it is rare to have multiple classes with one student, even within your major. Without a campus or a student body you get to interact with on a regular basis, it becomes the individual’s responsibility to facilitate social interaction — these situations don’t just fall into place. The prevalence of apartment-style dorms and off-campus housing that many NYU students inhabit furthers a sense of independence and responsibility for oneself. Overall, NYU’s culture and structure both contribute to a greater sense of autonomy for students and thus a challenging environment for making close connections with others.

Clearly there are pros and cons to such an environment. For one, studies suggest that happiness may in part rely on a sense of control in one’s life. This self-autonomy forces undergraduate students to become more adaptable to new environments and the challenges found in such environments. In a study done on 10th and 12th graders, researchers found that while academic achievement augments self-autonomy, autonomy also positively influences subsequent academic performance. So, perhaps the autonomy somewhat forced by NYU’s environment can be considered an opportunity to develop a sense of independence earlier than it would be otherwise — feeling of not-quite-there adulthood which allows students to feel more in control. However, the potential loneliness which occasionally — but not always — accompanies autonomy can have negative effects. Social interaction is vital not only for one’s mental health, but their physical health as well. Having fulfilling relationships has a strong correlation with physical health and life expectancy, so it is important to balance one’s sense of autonomy with a feeling of connectedness.

It is important to recognize that NYU fosters a unique college experience that allows one to achieve a greater sense of independence, often at the cost of easy social interaction. Try and take advantage of the benefits provided, and try to deal with the costs. Enjoy autonomy, but if you feel disconnected, join clubs, engage people socially, spark conversation — create an optimal situation in a suboptimal setting.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Email Victor Porcelli at [email protected].

Originally published at

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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