A big worry of students and a barrier to facilitating a sense of belonging is the pressure of making friends at university.
In the first four weeks, you can feel that you need to know other people and “ah, this could be my friend or this…” the pressure is so hard
Prospective students are often told that University is the time to make your ‘friends for life’ – whilst this may be true for some students, many will struggle with loneliness and feel they’ve failed to make meaningful connections. Loneliness and a lack of ‘friendships’ can create a sense of ‘failure at Uni life’. Encouraging students to be sociable and to make friends can feel overwhelming for some, making friends seems intangible for some. Instead, inspire your students to think big – by doing small: motivate students to make small tangible connections in the beginning. Some of these small connections might just build up to friendships.
- Highlight Leeds University Union events
- Start a weekly newsletter that keeps students updated about activities
- Arrange weekly drop-ins staffed by a rota of academic colleagues
- Organise outside events such as treasure hunts
- Run regular, scheduled school events
- Arrange events that run on evenings, at weekends or at other times that enable students to attend
- Start a monthly online games or bingo night or arrange film events with discussion afterwards
Remind students that there are opportunities to connect in every interaction. For example, you might encourage students to make small connections when waiting outside for a seminar to begin. Turning to the person next to you, counting to 3 in your head, taking a deep breath and saying ‘hello’ followed by asking how they found the reading or what they thought of the lecture can help kick start a conversation. Small interactions of connectivity can eventually lead to genuine friendships. Even if these small connections fail to result in friendships for life, having some sense of connectivity within university life can make student feel they belong that little bit more.
I remember my first ever Italian lecture, I was stood outside, and no one was talking to each other, because everyone was so nervous. And I just took a breath and turned to the person next to me and was like “Hi. I’m Cameron.” And he’s still one of my best friends now and I remember him saying, quite recently actually, I’m so glad that you just took the first step to be like, “Hi. This is me. Do you want to be friends?
Some students have work, family and other commitments that mean they cannot take part in additional activities, so it’s important to signpost everyone to a range of events and activities.
- Proactively signpost students to other areas of the university, such as faith, wellbeing and sustainability partners
- Co-create a range of accessible events with students to meet their needs at a time when they can engage
- Highlight activities such as sports and music; they play a valuable role in developing new friendship groups