Date of Award

December 2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Urban Education

First Advisor

Cheryl K Baldwin

Committee Members

Dante J Salto, Liliana Mina, Kyongboon Kwon


Belonging, College Peer Relationships, College Student Belonging, College Student Persistence, College Student Success


This study investigated how first-year college students described belonging experiences with college peers in the first semester, specifically conceptualizing these relationships as bidirectional, where college students both receive and provide support to one another in a mutual way. A descriptive phenomenological research design was employed to identify invariant structures of this phenomenon utilizing data collected from semi-structured interviews with 10 first-time, full-time undergraduate college students in their first semester enrolled at a private, religiously affiliated, four-year university in the midwestern United States. This study found that the invariant structures of belonging in college peer relationships in the first semester were representative of qualities of authenticity and genuineness, volitional friends or friends by choice, trust and comfort, and unconditional and unqualified emotional support among college peers. These findings suggest that these interpersonal relationship qualities, in addition to the setting qualities emphasized in past research, are important for influencing belonging need fulfillment among college students early in collegiate life. Additionally, these findings indicate that college peer relationships and sense of belonging, particularly in the first semester, are more complex and multifaceted than how college peer support has been conceptualized and investigated in the belonging literature.