Verena West, alumna, DipPsych

Tackling student isolation

“I was the first person in my family to go into HE, so I’m particularly interested in how that impacts on students’ experience of university, and how it intersects with other factors such as race and social class. I’m one of a team of authors contributing chapters to a book being compiled by Gianna Knowles, Associate Professor in Education Studies here at LSBU, with the aim of supporting higher education tutors in working with students with diverse needs.

Help and support

My research has thrown up some interesting insights. I spoke to BME students from a range of backgrounds, including some whose parents did go to university.

Students talked about isolation, feeling ‘other’ and having a sense that other students seemed to know their way around already

There was also a tendency to only seek help when they reached a crisis point. It was less that there was a stigma attached to it, and more that they either weren’t aware of the support available or didn’t feel they were entitled to it.

Where the student is also the first in the family to go into higher education, the difference in social and cultural capital grows even wider.

Attempts to get involved in fresher’s week events, and engage with societies, can take them out of their comfort zone. This, combined with pressure from families to do well, may lead them to sideline the social side of university life. Then later on, when they’re struggling with work, they may not have a network of peers to support them. That’s when students are at risk of dropping out.

Buddying and mentoring

“I think there are a number of solutions that could be explored. Where first-year students are going into halls of residence, for example, universities could try to group them with students who have similar interests or are on their course. Buddying and mentoring systems can help enormously too, and Student Unions could work to build stronger links with student societies to promote the help available and advertise events such as mental health week.

Tutors could set collaborative assignments early on in the course to encourage students – who might very well still be living at home – to come in and connect with others on their course. There was also a tendency among those I interviewed to need more support from their lecturers because they hadn’t developed effective peer study support networks.

Working alongside your peers and learning how they think, find information and approach their work is so valuable.


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