Promote Social Networks
Having social networks or people to talk to or interact with on a daily basis plays a key role in psychological well-being. Interactions with peers provide students with the opportunity to bond and share a sense of identity. The social support students receive as a result of their connection to others can help them cope with academic, career, family, and related challenges they may encounter while at school. Without these meaningful social interactions, students can feel isolated, lonely, or disconnected. If these feelings last for an extended period of time or interfere with a student’s ability to function, they may result in both mental or physical health consequences.
Although all students may feel lonely or isolated from time to time and experience problems related to interacting with others, certain groups of students may be particularly vulnerable for experiencing social network and social support problems. Oftentimes these students belong to a minority group, whether by gender, race, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. For example, college students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) or who have mental health problems may be more likely than their peers to report feeling isolated as a result of widespread social stigma.
More and more campuses are recognizing the importance of helping students expand their social networks and increase their perceived social support. Promoting social networks involves fostering relationships among students, which can lead to an increase in their sense of belonging and connection to campus. It also involves devising activities, policies, and strategies that help to reduce student isolation and promote feelings of connectedness. Campuses that promote students’ social networks can also encourage the development of smaller groups within the larger campus community as a way of fostering a campus-community spirit.
In developing policies and programs to increase students’ social networks, campuses may also want to consider how the meaning of community and social connection has changed. For a lot of students, being “connected” may occur virtually rather than through face-to-face situations. Therefore, finding ways to increase social networks may focus on the ways in which students connect with one another via the Intranet, mobile phones, and other electronic devices.