On Aug. 28, Northwestern President Morton Schapiro delivered an email containing difficult news: most first-year students would no longer be allowed on campus for Fall Quarter. For incoming first-year students Suzanne Bian and Joanne Haner, this meant their first in-person meeting would have to wait.

Bian and Haner originally met in a Class of 2024 group chat. The GroupMe, which currently has over 1000 members, organized smaller meetings over Zoom during the spring. Bian and Haner ended up in the same breakout room, and connected over Snapchat shortly after. Although Bian didn’t originally expect to make close friends online, she and Haner began talking daily.

“I think we both had the same sense of humor and texting style,” Bian said. “I introduced her to a TV show, Community, and she introduced me to my new favorite band. Also, we were sending each other a ton of TikToks and both of us responded to each one, and that kind of felt more personal.”

For years, incoming Northwestern classes have connected virtually through Facebook groups, group chats and social media. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down schools across the country, the circumstances felt different for the Class of 2024.

McCormick first-year Sahana Vandayar began meeting her future classmates through Instagram when Early Decision acceptances were released in December.

“The week ED decisions came out, everyone started following each other on Instagram. It made me feel like going to Northwestern was really real,” Vandayar said. “Once the pandemic hit, it made me realize that I probably wasn’t going to go in person. Knowing that was all going to be gone, I was that much more motivated to meet people online.”

Vandayar received confirmation that her first quarter at Northwestern would indeed be remote just over a week before she was scheduled to move in. The announcement sparked outrage in the group chats Vandayar participated in.

ARE U JOKING ME RN not me literally at the store buying stuff to move in rn

I just got back from target buying everything for my dorm LOL

They rlly had us for a sec

I hate it here

Messages from Lincoln Hall group chat courtesy of Sahana Vandayar

Haner received the news from a high school friend who was also attending Northwestern.

“She called me. I never pick up my phone, but she physically called me so I felt something was up,” Haner said. “She said, ‘Hey, did you see the email,’ and just by her voice, I was like, ‘Oh god, we’re not going back to campus.’”

After taking some time to process the news with her family, Haner reached out to Bian, who was still processing the announcement herself. Both students were disappointed that their first in-person meeting would be delayed.

“When we talked about what happened, we were just so sad we wouldn’t be able to see each other,” Haner said. “Since the Zoom call, I don’t think there’s been a day that passed by that we haven’t at least continued our conversation, so we were really looking forward to meeting each other in person.

Bian and Haner’s friendship formed through Zoom, Snapchat and TikTok, but Bian thinks the time she and Haner have spent together on the Internet will translate well to an in-person friendship.

“Honestly, I feel like if I see Joanne on campus, it will feel like I’m talking to one of my high school friends because we’ve talked so much and connected a lot over quarantine,” Bian said.

“We’re really trying to take that extra step to rebuild a little bit of what we’ve lost, even if it’s through Zoom calls.”

-- McCormick first-year Sahana Vandayar

Although first-year students have found community online, many are anxious to meet their classmates in-person. Until campus reopens for them, however, this will have to wait.

“I think the Class of 2024 is experiencing FOMO, to say the least,” Vandayar said. “We’re really trying to take that extra step to rebuild a little bit of what we’ve lost, even if it’s through Zoom calls.”