The Formation and Role of Social Belonging in On-Campus Integration of Diverse First-Generation College Students

Salusky et al. / Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice / April 2022

Students Sitting Outside Talking

First-generation college students (FGCS) experience high rates of attrition compared to continuing generation college students. FGCS frequently identify with several other historically marginalized identities on college campuses. The development of a sense of belonging on-campus is one of the main drivers of retention. The current study examines how sense of belonging on-campus develops during the first-year of college for different FGCS and how attitudes about on-campus relationships evolve over time. Thirteen participants were interviewed at three time points during their first year of college. Grounded theory analysis revealed four themes: 1) higher education provides a cultural learning environment; 2) multiple factors create challenges to relationship building; 3) extreme value differences create hard limits around friendships; and 4) within group friendships provide social and psychological value. Findings extend the current literature on the importance of social belonging for retention of diverse FGCS and highlight the importance of intersectionality in this work.