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Belonging and social activities

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

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?

Why is this important for belonging?

A big worry for students and a barrier to facilitating a sense of belonging is the pressure of making friends at university. 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. Being told to be sociable and to make friends can feel overwhelming for some, and depending on their personalities, trying to make friends might be nerve-racking. Structured activities inside and outside of the teaching space can support students in making meaningful connections that can support them in feeling a sense of belonging. 

What can we do?

  • Organise structured activities during the first few weeks of semester to allow student to get to know each other during welcome activities and when they are together in module sessions
  • Include interactive activities in lectures so that students have opportunities to talk to each other. An activity as simple as taking the first 5 minutes of a teaching session to ask students to introduce themselves to those sitting around them can help connections to begin
  • Highlight Leeds University Union events
  • Start a weekly newsletter that keeps students updated about activities, highlight a range of activities e.g. sports, music, crafts that might interest a diverse range of students
  • Arrange weekly drop-ins staffed by a rota of academic colleagues
  • Organise school/programme events outside of timetabled teaching, getting student input on the types of activities they would enjoy is useful
  • Arrange events that run at a variety of times that suit the makeup of the student cohort. Commuter students, for example, might struggle to attend evening events if they have a distance to travel. Students with part-time jobs and students who are parents or carers may have more restrictions on their time. Getting feedback from students on how to time events in an inclusive way can be useful
  • Proactively signpost students to other areas of the university, such as faith, wellbeing and sustainability partners