Director of Clinical Services
Students studying around table

Three things really matter to students when they are in college: the academic staff they work with, the nature of their academic study, and the feeling of belonging (Meehan & Howells, 2019). That feeling of belonging is an incredibly powerful force, and one that can determine whether a student persists in obtaining their degree. Though we all differ in what makes us feel like we belong, belonging is an essential human need.

Research consistently shows that perceptions of belonging at the college level have a significant impact on academic achievement, and even whether a student will remain in college. For example, a 2022 study found that university students who frequently considered dropping out had a significantly lower sense of belonging than students who did not. Additionally, students who reported a higher sense of belonging reported feeling more motivation and enjoyment in their academic studies (Pedler et al., 2022). Similarly, belonging is also closely linked to mental health and well-being with students lacking it being at an increased risk for mental and physical health problems and students possessing it reporting superior health indicators (Allen et al., 2021).

The perception of belonging is a deceptively complex feeling and arises from an interplay of individual factors and the environment in which we live and work. The highly dedicated staff at the SALT Center know that we play a significant role in helping college students feel connected, both to our program and to the larger university, and we take that responsibility seriously. Each component of the program is designed to build a bridge so students can break down the barriers that may impede their sense of belonging. We prioritize diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility because these values foster a sense of membership in our welcoming space and community.

Each area of support within the SALT Center contributes uniquely to helping build a community. Support Specialists help students work on specific communication and self-advocacy skills that can foster connections and guide students on how to reduce the barriers that interfere with their learning. The close working relationships that Support Specialists build with students can provide a sense of safety and empathy during their college experiences. They also coach students to develop the critical skills needed in higher education and to be competitive applicants in graduate schools or the workplace.

Tutors and Peer Mentors also have a critical role to play in helping students feel connected. Tutors develop ongoing academic relationships with students and show them strategies to engage with their learning more effectively. Peer Mentors listen and share their experiences of wins and challenges while encouraging other students to persevere as they navigate similar waters.

Additionally, the Psychological and Wellness Services team helps students feel more connected by exploring the things they care about, working together to solve problems in difficult situations, and taking goal-oriented actions to help them engage in the community in the ways they want. Our therapists can help students foster the self-awareness and skills needed to cope when feeling disconnected.

What can our students do when they don’t feel like they are connecting to the university community?

Tell Your Student Support Specialist

Your specialist can help by discussing ideas and strategies for becoming more involved. Being honest about the ways in which you are feeling disconnected is a powerful form of self-advocacy.

Attend SALT Center Events

The SALT Center plans a variety of engagement activities throughout the year to foster your creativity, teach you new skills, and connect you with other students.

Explore What the University Has to Offer

The University of Arizona has countless clubs, cultural centers and groups that can help you connect with other students with similar interests or backgrounds.

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Use Psychological and Wellness Services

Talk to your specialist about scheduling an appointment with a therapist. You can also explore self-help options and apps online.

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Catherine Meehan & Kristy Howells (2019) In search of the feeling of ‘belonging’ in higher education: undergraduate students transition into higher education, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 43:10, 1376-1390, DOI: 10.1080/0309877X.2018.1490702

Kelly-Ann Allen, Margaret L. Kern, Christopher S. Rozek, Dennis M. McInerney & George M. Slavich (2021) Belonging: a review of conceptual issues, an integrative framework, and directions for future research, Australian Journal of Psychology, 73:1, 87-102, DOI: 10.1080/00049530.2021.1883409

Pedler, Willis, R., & Nieuwoudt, J. E. (2022). A sense of belonging at university: student retention, motivation and enjoyment. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 46(3), 397–408.