Across the country, college freshmen are settling into their new lives and grappling with something that doesn’t compete with protests and political correctness for the media’s attention, something that no one prepared them for, something that has nothing to do with being “snowflakes” and everything to do with being human.


They’re lonely.


In a sea of people, they find themselves adrift. The technology that keeps them connected to parents and high school friends only reminds them of their physical separation from just about everyone they know best. That estrangement can be a gateway to binge drinking and other self-destructive behavior. And it’s as likely to derail their ambitions as almost anything else.


Brett Epstein felt it. “I spent my first night in the dorm and it hit me like a pile of bricks: It’s just me here,” Epstein, a 21-year-old senior at the College of Charleston, told me about his start there three years ago. “I was completely freaked out.”

布雷特.爱泼斯坦(Brett Epstein)体会到了这种感觉。“当时我在宿舍里度过了第一个晚上,这感觉就像一堆砖头砸中了我:这里只有我一个人,”21岁的爱泼斯坦是查尔斯顿学院(College of Charleston)的大四学生,他向我描述自己三年前入学时的情形。“我完全吓坏了。

Clara Nguyen felt it, too. “It’s a lot more difficult to make friends than people make it out to be,” Nguyen, a 19-year-old sophomore at U.C.L.A., told me about her experience last year. “I didn’t know how to be someone new while at the same time being who I always was.”

克拉拉.阮(Clara Nguyen)也有同感。“结交朋友要比想象中难得多,”阮是一位19岁的大二学生,就读于加州大学洛杉矶分校(U.C.L.A),她向我讲述自己去年的经历。“我不知道该怎样做一个新人,同时又保持我一直以来的样子。”

The problem sounds so ordinary, so obvious: People in an unfamiliar location confront dislocation. On their own two legs for the first time, they’re wobbly. Who would expect otherwise?


Well, most of them did, because college isn’t sold to teenagers as just any place or passage. It’s a gaudily painted promise. The time of their lives! The disparity between myth and reality stuns many of them, and various facets of youth today — from social media to a secondary-school narrative that frames admission to college as the end of all worry — worsen the impact.


Harry Rockland-Miller, who just retired as the director for the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, told me the emblematic story of a freshman he treated:

哈利.洛克兰-米勒(Harry Rockland-Miller)曾任马萨诸塞大学安姆斯特分校(University of Massachusetts at Amherst)心理咨询与心理健康中心主任,最近刚刚退休,他给我讲了他接待过的一个新生的故事,颇具象征意味:

“He was 18. He came to school and was invited to a party his first weekend, and he didn’t know anybody. So he started to drink. He drank way too much and ended up lying on a bench in his residential hall, feeling very sick. Nobody stopped and said, ‘How are you doing? Are you O.K.?’ And he felt so isolated. When he came in to speak with me the next day, the thing that struck him — what he said — was, ‘There I was, alone, with all these people around.’ ”


Alone, with all these people around. In a survey of nearly 28,000 students on 51 campuses by the American College Health Association last year, more than 60 percent said that they had “felt very lonely” in the previous 12 months. Nearly 30 percent said that they had felt that way in the previous two weeks.

在人群中,孑然一身。美国大学健康学会(American College Health Association)去年在51所院校对将近2.8万名学生进行了调查,发现超过60%的学生说他们在过去12个月里“感觉很孤独”。将近30%的人说他们在过去两周里有这样的感觉。

Victor Schwartz, the medical director of the Jed Foundation, which is one of the nation’s leading advocacy groups for the mental health of teenagers and young adults, said that those findings were consistent with his own observation of college students today. “While they expected that academics and finances would be sources of stress,” he told me, “many students were lonely and thought this was sort of unique to them, because no one talked about it.”

国内首屈一指的青少年和青年心理健康倡导组织杰德基金会(Jed Foundation)的医学总监维克多.施瓦茨(Victor Schwartz)说,这些发现和他本人对现今大学生的观察是相符的。“来自学业和财务的压力是他们意料之中的,”他对我说,“但是许多学生感觉孤独,而且认为这是他们特有的问题,因为谁也不愿意谈起这个。”

Their peers in fact do something that mine couldn’t back in the 1980s, when I attended college: use Facebook and Instagram to perform pantomimes of uninterrupted fun and unalloyed fabulousness. And these “highly curated selves,” as the U.C.L.A. psychologist Elizabeth Gong-Guy called them, “amplify the fact that you’re sitting in your residence hall alone.”

他们的同龄人的确会做一些我那代人在1980年代上大学时不会做的事:用Facebook和Instagram来表演一出出哑剧,传播不间断的享乐和纯粹的精彩。UCLA心理学家伊丽莎白.龚-盖伊(Elizabeth Gong-Guy)称之为“经过精心编排的自我”,它们会“放大你此刻正孤坐寓所的事实”。

Gong-Guy runs her university’s Campus and Student Resilience program, which helps students with emotional struggles and exemplifies many schools’ intensifying efforts to address loneliness, among other mental health issues.

龚-盖伊是UCLA校园与学生适应力项目(Campus and Student Resilience)的负责人。目前多所学校正在加强孤独等心理健康问题的应对工作,她的项目旨在帮助处于情感挣扎中的学生,为其中的表率。

Extended, elaborate freshmen orientation schedules are another intended prophylactic against loneliness, which is a common reason for dropping out. And as Lawrence Biemiller recently noted in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, there’s even a push to place and design freshmen dormitories so that solitary time is minimized and interaction maximized.

广泛而详尽的新生引导计划,也是针对孤独的预防措施之一,孤独是退学的一个常见原因。劳伦斯.比米勒(Lawrence Biemiller)在近日发表于《高等教育纪事报》(The Chronicle of Higher Education)的一篇文章中说,有的地方甚至在对新生宿舍进行专门的选址和设计,以尽可能减少独处的时间,增加人际互动。

Three new residence halls at Goucher College, one of which opened last fall and two of which are nearing completion, typify this trend. Goucher’s president, José Antonio Bowen, said that the center-of-hall situation of bathrooms, the glass walls of laundry rooms and even the speed of the wireless connection in common areas — much faster than in the rooms — are deliberate pushbacks against forces that can isolate students.

古彻学院(Goucher College)是这股潮流的代表,他们新建的三座宿舍楼中的一座已于去年秋天投入使用,剩下两座即将完工。校长何塞.安东尼奥.鲍文(José Antonio Bowen)表示,放在大楼中央的卫生间,洗衣房的玻璃墙,甚至在公用区域的无线网络速度——比宿舍房间内要快很多——都意在减少可能导致学生们互不往来的力量。

“Students are arriving on college campuses with all of their high school friends on their phones,” Bowen told me, referring to the technological quirks of today. They too easily substitute virtual interactions for physical ones, withdrawing from their immediate circumstances and winding up lonely as a result.


That’s why the solution isn’t hourly messages from concerned moms and dads, whose stubborn attentiveness, no matter how well meant, can leave their children psychologically frail. Mental health experts and college administrators recommend a more thoughtful organization of campus life and more candid conversations about the tricky transition to college.


Nguyen, the U.C.L.A. sophomore, said that in her Vietnamese-American family in Southern California, all the talk was of doing well enough in high school to get to college and not about the challenges college itself might present. Epstein, the College of Charleston senior, said that his popularity in high school in the suburbs of New York City perhaps distracted him from any awareness that “I was going 700 miles away and being dropped in a place of 10,000 people and wasn’t going to know anybody.” What followed, he added, was “a long battle with anxiety and depression.”


One of the narrators of Tom Perrotta’s superb new novel, “Mrs. Fletcher,” is a former high school lacrosse star who arrives on campus “after all the endless buildup” and develops a “queasy feeling” that his world has become at once more populous and a whole lot colder. “There I was, people-watching and eating my omelet,” he says of one morning in the dining hall, “and the next thing I knew my throat swelled up. And then my eyes started to water.”

在汤姆.佩罗塔(Tom Perrotta)的精彩新书《弗莱彻夫人》(Mrs. Fletcher)中,有一位叙事者在高中是袋棍球明星,来到大学前“经历了无休止的期望值累积”,却最终形成一种“反胃的感觉”,因为在他的世界里人越聚越多,却越来越冷。“我在那里,观察着人们,吃着我的煎蛋饼,”他说起一天早晨在食堂的经历时表示,“可一转眼,也不知怎的,我的嗓子哽咽了,接着我的双眼开始湿润。”

We urge new college students not to party too hard. We warn them of weight gain (“the freshman 15”). We also need to tell them that what’s often behind all that drinking and eating isn’t celebration but sadness, which is normal, survivable and shared by many of the people around them, no matter how sunny their faces or their Facebook posts.