Campus Life Spotlight: Helping Students Matter

Posted on Sep 20, 2011

Last week, the campus learned about Zeller & Mosier's W-curve, and the various stages of adjustment that students experience while entering campus for the first time.

Beyond helping students adjust, though, is the concept of making meaning for their experience on campus.

Schlossberg (1989) posits that during times of transition there are increased experiences and feelings of anxiety. In the time of new students transitioning to UW-Superior, or transfer students adjusting to their new university, or international students adjusting to American lifestyles, Schlossberg states that the success of a transition is weighed by feelings of mattering versus marginality. Both experiences have cues, feelings, and actions that can be observable by faculty, student, and staff.

Mattering, as the theory supports, is the notion that someone matters to others at the university, both students and staff alike. The feeling of being valued by others, such as classmates or other residents in the halls, helps students feel as though they are part of the fabric of UW-Superior.

Mattering: Cues, feelings, and actions
When a student feels as though they matter to UW-Superior, they feel that they individually are important to the institution. The feeling cared about on multiple levels leads to feelings of positive attention, connection, and personal worth in their academic endeavors. This creates a positive dependence on others, both that they are needed here but also that they need others in the community in order to be successful. The student who matters functions positively in their desire to perform at expectations set by others and themselves (Hunter, 2005).

Marginalization occurs when someone feels on the fringes of the university environment or that they don't fit in. Perhaps it is a mismatch of social mores and norms, or the academic experience or transition isn't flowing smoothly. This feeling of marginalization often leads to lower self-esteem and higher self-consciousness for performing.

Marginalization: Cues, feelings, actions
The opposite can be true for feelings of marginalization. When students don't feel that the expectations of the university match their achievement levels, feelings of self-worth drop and reclusion can occur. Students start questioning their connection and value to others, and feelings of extreme independence lead to questioning of retention to the university. Students don't feel as though they are noticed, cared about, worthy of attention, or important to individuals and community (Hunter & Gahagan, 2003)

As faculty and staff, it is imperative to the success of UW-Superior and the retention of our students that we take an honest look at mattering versus marginality. Transitions take all forms, but the common experience among new students is the figuring out if this place is for them.

Steps you can take
There are several steps you can take to help assess how students transition and experience is going thus far in their semester at UW-Superior:

  • Doing a one-minute journal to start off a class period with a prompt such as "Share one positive experience that has made you feel like you are a Yellowjacket" or "The biggest concern I have about being at UW-Superior is ________". Ask students to turn these into you, and use them as a prompt to have private conversations into the future.
  • Notice who is hanging out with you as they enter class. Who comes alone? Who sits in the back without connecting with others? Who puts their earbuds in the minute you dismiss class and rushes out?
  • Come to the YU Café and eat with one of your students. Sharing a meal together is an age-old method of creating community and feelings of connection.
  • Go to an athletics game on campus to support our student athletes. Search the sports rosters ahead of time to find your students, and make sure you connect with them at the game. Learn about their passion for the sport and how it fits into their academic plans at UWS.
  • Promote involvement in student organizations. We have dozens and dozens of student organizations that meet the needs of most students, and new ones are being created as we speak. Many research studies show the more a student is involved on campus, the higher their GPA is and they are more likely to be retained at the university.

How are YOU recognizing cues, feelings, and actions related to students mattering and feeling marginalized? Indeed, the recognition of these two factors in relation to community building on campus can be one of the highest retention factors for new and transfer students in the first six weeks.

Hunter, M.S. (2005) Knowing what to expect: Student development and the first-year experience. Program presented at the meeting of the Georgia College Personnel Association.

Hunter, M. & Gahagan, J. (2003). It takes a year. About Campus, 31-32.

Schlossberg, N. K. (1989), Marginality and mattering: Key issues in building community. New Directions for Student Services, 1989: 5-15.

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