As we mentioned in our previous post on seeking out the commonalities we share with others, college does provide students with an optimal setting for meeting new people and exploring new ideas. However, as much as some students may want to step outside of their relational comfort zones, they may be unsure of the best way to go about doing so.
If you’d like to offer your students some direction, offer them these tips, which we’ve adapted from Christine Harrington’s Student Success in College: Doing What Works! A Research-Focused Approach. Share or discuss them with any students who might want to have a more diverse college experience, yet aren’t sure where or how to begin.
- Take it one step at a time. You don’t need to start by racing up to a group of people and attempting to foster a conversation about deep and meaningful topics (in fact, you probably shouldn’t do that!). On the other hand, if you spend too much time worrying that someone will automatically reject you because of your differences, then the likelihood of your taking the initiative to meet new people will be fairly low. Instead of mulling over the negative things that might happen, overcome some of your nervousness by first thoughtfully considering what you might say and how you might interact. Harrington suggests: “Start by imagining what it would be like to talk to someone who is different from you and how that person’s experiences might be different from yours. After visualizing this process, take a small step by starting a conversation” (168). As you build a connection and develop mutual respect and understanding, you can move on to deeper topics.
- Keep an open mind as you interact. The more you get to know other people for who they are as individuals rather than for what you assume about their thoughts, feelings, abilities, and opinions, the more you’ll come to appreciate and benefit from the diversity of insights and perspectives that they share with you. What’s more, because you demonstrate an openness and willingness to listen and learn, people will be less likely to judge you as someone who is closed off to others.
- Get involved with new groups, clubs, and organizations. Have you always wanted to meet others with an interest in film noir, folk dance, robotics, or rowing, but never had the opportunity, resources, or time to do so? Want to volunteer your time and effort to a cause that’s becoming more and more important to you? Hoping to find others on campus who can relate to your values and concerns? Step up and join in. Starting from a point of common interest is a great way to begin broadening your horizons and making new connections. As you engage with these new groups, you’re sure to encounter people you may never have met otherwise—and, you’ll gain from the exchange of new ideas, skills, and knowledge. Not sure where to begin? Your school’s student affairs group will have a list of these opportunities in their office and on their website; you can also check the posters that you’ll find around campus. (Harrington, 167-169)
Reference: Harrington, Christine. 2013. Student Success in College: Doing What Works! A Research-Focused Approach. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
How do you encourage students to expand their relationship circles in college? How do you explain the benefits of doing so? Share your insights in the comments below.