Peer mentors have a distinct advantage over faculty and staff members: students are more likely to trust them because they’re sharing a similar college experience.

That’s one of the big reasons that many campuses use peer mentors to foster a sense of belonging and mattering among students. “Oftentimes, students face a trust barrier when working with faculty and professional staff members, sometimes as a result of a history of fraught relationships with authority figures,” wrote Michelle DiMenna for EAB. “Peers, however, overcome this barrier because students are eager to connect with and learn from one another. While students may be nervous or ashamed to reach out to a faculty or staff member, students tend to find peers more approachable and easier to connect with, which can be especially beneficial to women and students of color.”

Putting Trust and Respect in Action

So, that’s a big benefit in peer mentors’ favor. However, developing a true sense of trust and respect between mentors and mentees takes intentional effort. To do so, they can…

  • Be consistent
  • Be clear about expectations
  • Be inclusive and welcoming
  • Keep each other informed
  • Maintain a positive attitude
  • Keep their promises
  • Follow up when they say they will
  • Not talk about students and their issues behind their backs (unless you’re talking with a supervisor to determine how best to help them)
  • Listen well
  • Show an interest in people and their stories
  • Try to look at things from others’ perspective rather than just their own
  • Hold each other accountable
  • Discuss problems in private, not in public
  • Encourage questions
  • Not pass judgment on mistakes and help others learn from them instead
  • Admit their own mistakes readily
  • Recognize that there’s no one “right” way to do things
  • Be open to feedback, ideas and suggestions
  • Give feedback along the way so nothing is a surprise
  • Share why they do things instead of just doing them

Keep adding to this list, as you likely have trust and respect actions of your own that help guide you.

Source: “Why and how to build a sense of belonging on campus,” EAB, 4/24/19

Learn more like this about how peer mentors can really connect with students and make an impact with our Peer Mentor Practices: Training, Facilitation & Programming resource.