Earlier this year, The College of Wooster became involved in a pen pal program open to any student who wishes to participate. Wooster joined Ohio PenFriends along with many other Ohio universities and colleges, including Denison University, Kenyon College, Oberlin College, Ohio University and more. To become involved, students from Wooster can reach out to the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) and become connected to a student at one of the other universities. There are clear community guidelines and expectations, and Ohio PenFriends is a chance for students, whether remote or in-person, to connect with new people in a COVID-19-friendly way.
On Feb. 2, remote student Sam Casey ’21 received an email from CDI asking if he would like to be involved in Ohio PenFriends. Casey says that “during my time at Wooster, I’ve always thought about how great it would be for students who go to similar schools (Oberlin, Kenyon, etc.) to connect, and this seemed to be what the pen pal program was doing.” Casey noted that “it is especially nice right now because I’m studying remotely and don’t have the opportunity to meet new people.”
In order to become involved with the program, the student must fill out an informational form about themselves to find a good match. One of the program guidelines highlighted is for students to “keep expectations realistic.” However, for Casey, his expectations were not met at all. Casey says that over twenty days after the initial email from CDI, he “received a follow-up email from CDI with the name of a student from Kenyon College who would be my pen pal. I excitedly emailed them but have yet to receive a reply. Of course, this is a busy time for everyone but it also defeats the purpose of the program. The email said to contact CDI if you no longer wish to be in the program, but it did not say anything about what to do if you don’t hear back. It’s been two weeks so I plan to reach out to CDI, but it’s still pretty disappointing to have it not work out initially. I know this happened to another Wooster student as well.”
Mahi Lal ’22 made an attempt to take advantage of the new program as well. She unfortunately did not get off to a smooth start when her first pen pal dropped out of the program before they could even be put in contact. Lal had also received an email from CDI about the opportunity and thought “it would be an exhilarating experience making friends virtually in the middle of a pandemic.” Lal continues, stating “I liked that they [Ohio PenFriends] had clearly stated guidelines and suggestions of how to make the friendship/relationship safe and effective. It also gave me something exciting to do whilst in isolation.”
Furthering her sense of comfort in the program, Lal says that the CDI had interested students fill out a form with their interests and identities so that “they would match us with appropriate people. Also, although they knew which identities were salient to us, they didn’t reveal those identities to the potential pen pals because that would be up to us once we were put in contact and that made me comfortable.”
Unlike Casey, Lal has since been successfully matched in the program. After her first match dropped from the program before they could start contacting each other, Lal was almost immediately matched with someone from Kenyon and they have been conversing regularly. Lal says “We have already established shared interests and identities. I followed the appropriate guidelines and immediately established which form of communication worked best for both of us. I think I have been matched appropriately and couldn’t have asked for a better pen pal!”
Lal is very content with her experience with Ohio PenFriends and thinks “the program is an effective program for remote students because the two people involved are from different institutions anyway. There are options of doing voice calls and video calls if people are comfortable with that.”
As for improvements, Lal says that the program could be made even better if “CDI holds an event where pen pals could meet when it’s safer to after having formed a long and beautiful friendship.” For Casey, he says that “the idea of the pen pal program is great, but starting it in the middle of the semester may have caused some difficulties.” He points out that “it would make more sense to start [the program in Wooster] at the beginning of either the fall or spring semester as they are a natural place where people are dedicated to trying new things and where motivation is highest. CDI said a lot of people signed up to participate, but I wonder how many people are in the same situation as me. I wish there was a way to hold people more accountable if they decide to sign up.”
In order to become involved in the Ohio PenFriends program, email CDI@wooster.edu to get started.