For new students, joining a large student organization often seems like a great opportunity to make friends. However, sometimes these member heavy organizations are overwhelming, and students can end up feeling lonelier and more isolated than before joining. To combat this, underclassmen should identify and join organizations that emphasize peer mentorship.
Mentorship has been linked to both academic and social benefits, including higher GPAs, improved class performance and easing the anxieties associated with the transition into college by providing the mentee with a go-to friend.
The importance of peer mentorship is heavily emphasized to incoming freshmen through programs like the First-Year Interest Group, peer mentor programs provided by certain colleges and resident assistants. However, many of the student organizations new students join don’t offer mentorship opportunities.
In UT’s spring 2017 National College Health Assessment II survey, the three factors that most impacted students’ academic performance were stress (31.5 percent), anxiety (21.5 percent) and depression (15.5 percent). Each of these factors are areas where a peer mentor and a supportive community within an organization can help ease younger students’ transition in college — most of all because these mentors might have been there before.
Vinit Shah, a sophomore public health major, is currently training to become a peer educator with the Counseling and Mental Health Center. Shah called social isolation on college campuses an unspoken epidemic. He stated in an email, “I think student organizations are central to combatting this problem, but many organizations often adopt practices that make students feel more lonely or isolated.”
These practices can result from the large number of active members who join student organizations and the flood of new students attempting to join at the beginning of each semester. New faces can easily become a blur in the crowd, and new members don’t receive much interaction. This leaves students feeling uninvolved and isolated despite having officially joined and paid dues. This feeds a feeling of isolation, with students left to fend for themselves rather than having someone to look out for them.
Many organizations across campus implement peer mentoring, and students should seek out these organizations because they will more likely be seen, heard and included in organization events. This creates a welcoming environment for new students, providing something unique — a community introduced by mentors.
Gabriela Coelho is a special education and Plan II senior who works as a Plan II peer mentor, an RA and a FIG mentor. “If you have a mentor that’s not very approachable it can make you feel very isolated and alone,” Coelho stated in an email. “If you have a wonderful mentor that shows you they care about you, you may find a really strong, supportive community that helps you grow as an individual.”
“I think mentorship is a critical part of any student organization. Freshmen on campus are often lost in so many different ways,” Shah said. When he was a freshman working as a Longhorn Legislative Aide, Shah was mentored by former SG President Alejandrina Guzman.
“Since both of us were first-generation college students from the Fort Worth area, she was someone I could relate to,” Shah said. “She inspired me to pursue future leadership opportunities on-campus as well and helped me believe in myself more.”
Underclassmen should prioritize finding an organization that has mentorship so that they may reap the social and academic benefits. Be wary of large organizations — they can cause isolation rather than cure it.
Cooper is a journalism and Plan II freshman from Austin.