By Sanskriti Maheshwari, Design Researcher
This blog post is part of Delving into the Digital Campus, a four-part series in collaboration with the Digital Community & Connectedness Project, aimed at understanding how students find and make connections in digital spaces. Each post is a written reflection from our Design Researchers, sharing how the insights from their project has resonated with them in their own lived experiences.
Ever been told that opposites attract?
Through taking a course on Interpersonal Relationships, I uncovered something quite eye-opening. ‘Opposites attract’ is just a fantastical expression used to keep us invested in the romantic relationships and friendships that play out in front of our TV and movie screens. In reality, I have found that birds of a feather do in fact flock together. For example, in my own life I have observed that most of my closest friends have identical hobbies, personalities, political views, and so on. When meeting new individuals, any differences in interest or personalities can seem more pronounced than they really are. Possibly because a foundation built on a shared purpose hasn’t been established just yet. This is also something I learnt from my experience conducting the Stories from a Distance Sessions and The Digital Community & Connectedness Project.
A Common Ground
During our dialogue-based focus group sessions, many students expressed their desire to engage and work with students with similar interests and common goals. One student told us that they found community in a team whose members not only share interests but also have similar ambitions:
“It’s like a tiny little team. And I’ve asked to be a part of it. And now I am and that has been very fulfilling because we’ve been trying to do things and to really make herself like a team and actually plan events more, like systematically and stuff and have a vision and have mission and goals.”
Now, as I think about debunking the myth that is “opposites attract,” I am reminded of one of our Stories sessions. During a session, we decided to put participants into breakout rooms to solve an escape room together. The participants were all new faces for one another and ourselves. I wasn’t sure how we would facilitate a conversation that wasn’t riddled with awkward silences.
But I saw something beautiful unfold.
The escape room acted as an anchor, something that bound a room full of strangers together. People were more willing to speak up and collaborate when they were asked to solve a problem together. A relationship between strangers in a breakout room was created because of a shared purpose, but it sustained itself because the escape room was a conversation starter that encouraged interdependency and mutuality. I witnessed an intimate group dynamic being formed because these strangers found common ground in the form of shared interests, life goals, and so on. I feel that genuine connections are manifested because of similarity.
Interestingly, what I saw wasn’t only limited to the Stories from a Distance session or our research project. My meeting with my colleagues (who I most definitely consider to be friends) at the Innovation Hub also mirror our findings. The meaningful work that we do brought us together by giving us a shared purpose, but our shared struggle of being students and passions for community building brought us closer together.
I realize that homophily, which is the tendency to seek out people with similar experiences, beliefs, values, attitudes, and interests, is inevitable. Similarities aren’t quite as noticeable, but my hope is that this does not discourage students from seeking out and maintaining connections. In fact, I hope that it encourages students to stay committed to and not give up on their communities because I am optimistic that similarities will surface.
If you would like to learn more:
- Access our full report of key findings, take aways, and design principles aimed at supporting community builders at UofT
- Take a look at our previous Delving into the Digital post!
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