COVID Challenges Pitt’s Sense of Community

The quarantine life changed Pitt’s sense of community, but with a little help, you can still feel your Panther Pride. 

January 2020: spring semester begins at Pitt. First-year students are settling into campus life. They are getting a feel for Oakland and what it has to offer, finding clubs and organizations that are a good fit and generally finding their place in the Pitt community. Returning students are back in their comfort zone. They are starting clubs and running organizations and setting the tone for the Pitt community overall.  

Then the pandemic. Everything changes and the community shuts down.  

While Pitt was quick to address immediate concerns like public health and safety and ensuring the quality of education, they seemed to neglect Pitt’s sense of community. Has it been lost in the aftermath of the coronavirus or can it still be found among the Zoom calls and Panopto lectures? 

I joined Pitt, back in March, as a transfer student just before the pandemic struck. I spent about eight weeks on campus before we were all quarantined, and I have still not been back to Oakland since. Eight weeks is not very much time to get a feel for what the Pitt community has to offer, but there are things that I miss. 

My wife works for the medical school and I miss riding the bus with her in the morning. I miss working out at the “Pete” (Peterson Events Center) and I miss learning in a classroom with other students. But, most of all, I miss Oakland. It is a vibrant and interesting place full of charming characters and novel experiences. I will graduate in December 2021 and I may never set foot on campus again.  

I feel disconnected from Pitt during these unusual times, and I am not alone. One student I asked about this sense of separation said, “It’s difficult to feel like you’re part of a community when you’re so far away; I chose Pitt because I love the campus and the atmosphere, and I’m missing all of that, which makes me feel as though I’m missing out on the parts of Pitt that I love the most.” Another added, “Overall the pandemic has brought this sense of detachment, and although I don’t mind being left alone, I feel for those who are used to a bustling environment and are able to make friends by meeting in person.” In total, 60 percent of the students I surveyed reported feeling like they were not a part of the Pitt community.  

I will graduate in December 2021 and I may never set foot on campus again.

Aaron Horsting

So, what steps can we take to stay connected and what options do Pitt and its student organizations offer to get that social fix that helps us all feel a part of something greater? 

On July 29, 2020, Dean Kenyon Bonner announced that a group of student leaders had drafted the Pitt Community Compact, a list of guidelines meant to ensure health, safety and accountability for everyone in the Pitt community. These guidelines guaranteed that masks and social distancing would be the norm for the foreseeable future. They also provide the framework within which clubs and organizations must operate going forward. 

The Pitt Community Compact is part of a hub ( that Pitt has created as an easy reference for all things coronavirus at Pitt. This includes a Socially Engaged, Physically Distant page. There you will find a solid list featuring a variety of activities that are socially responsible, and quarantine approved. While they may not be the typical activities that college students are used to, there are more than a few ways to spend some time with a group of friends on their page. 

Check out the Student Organization Resource Center for even more activities. The SORC keeps up a database of all 677 student organizations on campus with easy category searches to help you find the right group for you as well as posting activities that are open to all students. 

The PittServe hub and its activities calendar is a great way to get involved in the greater Pittsburgh community as part of Pitt’s service outreach. Their commitment shows that you can still have a social conscience while being social distant. PittServe recommends that students who still want to give back should do so in the safest way possible. They ask that you do not host or attend events if you are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms or if you are uncomfortable attending an in-person event. 

This March, the Pitt Program Council hosted a virtual Q&A with actor and screenwriter Dan Levy of “Schitt’s Creek” and “Happiest Season” fame and a virtual concert and Q&A with Grammy-nominated recording artist Noah Cyrus. The PPC website also has an events calendar with links to activities like axe throwing, group bike rides, macramé classes and self-care tutorials. All events are either virtual, socially distanced or in small groups to keep everyone safe. Of all of the resources available, this seems to offer something for most everyone. 

That said, much the same as before the pandemic, the Pitt community continues to engage in a great variety of programs and organizations. They are finding new and creative ways to engage with community members.  

At the beginning of this article, I posed the question: can there still be a vibrant and active university community when we are all living the quarantined lifestyle? It looks like there can be, you just need to know where to look. 

For more information on any of the groups listed here check out the links below: 

How Twitch Streaming Fights Quarantine Loneliness

As socializing has become forbidden during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are turning to online platforms for social interaction.

When Twitch user StarziiLive began streaming in October of 2020, her world flipped upside down.

“I was seeing growth and connection like I couldn’t have ever expected,” she told me. And she’s right. Starzii ballooned faster than most creators, gaining nearly 2,000 followers in the first six months of Twitch streaming, and she continues to grow with her daily streams.

“Most people don’t see progress on Twitch for years,” she said. “So to see so much growth in just a few months really shows how much people want to see new faces during quarantine.”

For those unfamiliar, Twitch is a live-streaming platform with over 15 million unique daily users and over 4 million unique streamers every month. There are hundreds of live-streaming categories, most focused on streaming video games in action, but Twitch also features streams focused on chatting, cooking, art, science and tech, and even autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR).

With Twitch being the largest platform in the world of its kind, it’s easy to see the influence it has on the internet. During the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent global lockdown during 2020 and continuing today, this platform grew wildly, showing how human connection is more important than ever even over a screen.

Analytics-wise, 2020 was Twitch’s biggest year ever. Between March and April, when quarantine first began in the United States and other countries, the number of hours watched monthly by users on Twitch increased by 50 percent. As of January 2021, Twitch has over 1.65 billion hours of monthly watch time.

A graph from Twitch Tracker showing the massive increase in Twitch viewership at the beginning of the pandemic

As someone who uses Twitch daily, both as a streamer and a viewer, not only have I seen these numbers change lives, but I have also seen countless close relationships form all in a chat box on screen.

Personally, I contribute this progress to the pandemic. Not only do statistics show that more people than ever are joining Twitch to find online connections, but I myself can say that most of my friends that I have met on the platform got involved because they were stuck at home.

While I’m sure that many people would still find content that they enjoy on the platform outside of the desire to connect over interests online during the pandemic, I am inclined to believe that Twitch has helped people thrive during stay-at-home orders and lockdowns. The interest-based communities of Twitch combined with a strong desire for live, personal connection has driven many towards the platform, and the numbers clearly support this.

My first stream was on February 13th, 2021. In the last month since I began, I have been blown away by how quickly growth on Twitch can happen, as well as how quickly one can become drawn into the Twitch community. I reached Twitch’s Affiliate Status within a week of my first stream “Affiliate” being a title where you’re able to make revenue off of Twitch, as well as being the first step towards becoming Partnered on Twitch, where the company personally sponsors your streams.

Screenshot from a stream of mine on March 13th, 2021

Here’s an image from one of my streams, where you can see that I had reached nearly 300 followers at that time. Now, just a few weeks later, I have nearly doubled my follower count.

Numbers aside, both Starzii and I have found that the largest aspect keeping us streaming is the number of connections we’ve both made in our short time on the platform. Using outside platforms like Twitter and Discord to connect with both fans and other content creators, we have found ourselves in a “bubble of content,” as Starzii put it.

“It’s like you break into the scene of streaming, and all of the sudden you have tons of followers, people reaching out wanting to be friends, it’s crazy,” she said.            

This concept doesn’t just apply to streamers, though. More than anything, the viewers have been able to find huge communities of friends that hang out virtually more than most see people in person during the pandemic. One of my viewers, who goes by FishVapor online, said “It’s a weird place. I feel closer to people online now, almost, since I haven’t been able to go to school or hang out with friends. We always talk in voice calls and watch movies together, play games, or just talk about life. . . and they don’t even know my first name.” This absolutely holds true across the entirety of the Twitch community.

“It’s like you break into the scene of streaming, and all of the sudden you have tons of followers, people reaching out wanting to be friends, it’s crazy.” 

StarziiLive, Twitch user

My favorite thing that has come from streaming during quarantine has been meeting people I would have never met before. I have made so many friends, to the point that when I host virtual movie nights over the Discord app, I have over 20 people joining the call just to feel that connection and be able to experience something together.

We even hosted a virtual prom in early February 2021 for our friends who were missing their high school proms due to the pandemic. The sense of community is tangible, and I have spent more time with these people on-screen than I have with people in person since COVID-19 restrictions began.

A group of friends and I attending a virtual prom over Minecraft

The ability to spend so much time online has given people an escape from the reality of the pandemic. For a while, as users watch their favorite streamer or hang out in a Discord call with their friends, they can forget that the world is shut down.

“I don’t know if when the world opens up that things will change,” Starzii told me. “I think that people are realizing now that they can make true, meaningful connections online. I know it was possible before, but quarantine really emphasized just how powerful the internet is. I think the only thing that will change for me is getting on a plane to visit my friends in person.”

Looking forward to what Twitch will look like after quarantine restrictions end and the world goes back to normal, I expect that Starzii will be correct. I think that quarantine pushed people into online spaces out of necessity for connection, and I think those people will remain in these spaces because now they know the possibilities that are out there for them.

The escape from reality that we see happening on Twitch isn’t something that people will forget about once the pandemic is over people are always in need of a break from real life. I believe that people will stick with their online friends to watch a stream after a hard day at work or an exam that was just a bit too difficult. The community that Twitch gives people is incredibly kind and supportive, and always there to do something fun even when the world outside seems to be crumbling.