A student group at the University of Alberta is making it easier to maintain a support system while in school.
Friends Across Campus (FAC) is a student club dedicated to helping individuals reach out and make friends. FAC holds its cornerstone event, speed-friending — an adaptation of speed-dating — every other month of the school year. Other events FAC has held include a scavenger hunt across campus, paint nights, pumpkin carving, and a self-care arts and crafts tea party.
Hailey Pineau, president of FAC and a ninth-year PhD student in neuroscience, started the group in September 2016 with some friends from the Peer Support Centre. Having social anxiety herself, Pineau remembers when she was studying electrical engineering as an undergraduate student and the loneliness that came with not having a strong support system.
“I think that a support system is really necessary to deal with all of the stresses of university,” she said.
FAC has grown in both size and scope in the past two-and-a-half years. Their first event held in September 2016 was a speed-friending get-together that had about 20 people in attendance. Now, their monthly events attract over 100 people.
In the coming year, FAC is looking into hosting more events each month. The group is entertaining the possibility of a board-game cafe night and friendship walks where a volunteer facilitates conversation on a group stroll. The executives are also looking into having workshops where they invite a professional public speaker to give tips on how to have good conversations and overcome fears of approaching and connecting with people.
Jay Vamar, a fourth-year business student and FAC vice-president of finance, remembers his experience coming to the U of A as an international student and how FAC helped him make personal connections during his first year.
”It was hard to get integrated with domestic or even international students. There were few people from my country, so everyone was foreign to me,” Vamar said. “[Knowing there was] a group such as Friends Across Campus where the people in charge tell us what to do to make friends was pretty neat to me.”
For Vamar, FAC has succeeded in its goal of creating a space that is tolerant and welcoming to everyone.
“We try to create a positive atmosphere. If somebody is sitting at a table nobody else is sitting at, we make sure our volunteers go over and have a chat with them,” he said. “When we see people come in at the beginning of the events individually and leave our event in groups, we feel like we did something.”