Developmental Role Topic Descriptions

We estimated a topic model with 10 topics, 812 open-ended responses, and a 322 word dictionary. (after removing stop words). The resulting topics are interpreted and described in the accompanying sections, and the responses reflect two major topic branches: Social Identity and Different Perspectives. The detailed methods for estimating the model can be found in the section on Topic Modeling and Interpretation.

What role did the arts play in your development as a person, friend, colleague, and student during college?

This question asked about the role that the arts played in relational terms – to self, and to self in interaction with others. Broadly, these impacts around development of self fall along two main branches: Social Identity and Different Perspectives. The topic Social Connections indicated new and strengthened social bonds and supporting friends by attending and participating in arts activities. Students also reported growth or change in the areas of Personal IdentitySkill AcquisitionNew Perspectives and Cultural UnderstandingsBetter Life Balance, and, as might be expected, a Deeper Appreciation of the Arts. Taken together, this array of topics suggest a significant pro-social role for the the arts in the students’ social (and skill) development.

Social Identity

This node of responses focuses on the impact of the arts in college on Social Connections and on Identity. There were multiple impacts in the category of Social Connections. Supporting friends in their artistic endeavors is a way to both maintain relationships through mutual interests in the arts as well as to share and take pride in friends’ creative endeavors and accomplishments. Having these relationships supported through arts attendance helped students maintain balance in their academic lives. The primary effect on Identity was the arts’ contribution to students’ personal and professional lives, the way they view themselves, or their pursuit of their life-long goals. In some cases, the arts come to play an integral role.

Social Connections

To be included in this node, responses typically included the word “friend,” and described either attending arts events with friends, supporting friends engaged themselves in arts events or activities, or gaining or maintaining friendships (social bonds) through mutual interests centered around the arts.

Strengthened Social Bonds

Typical responses in this impact area include expressions of the importance of attending arts events with friends or supporting friends in their arts activities as a way for friendships to become closer. There was also the observation of being closer to friends who were involved in the arts, or that those friends were valuable to their broader college experiences or in developing new perspectives.

This differs from the reported Supported Friends section in that these reported impacts focus on becoming “closer” to existing friends through the arts rather than the personal enjoyment or enrichment that supporting friends in their arts interests engenders. This section also speaks to developing a greater respect or appreciation of their friends’ skills, commitment and creativity through the shared interest in their arts participation.

“Attending art events was something I did with my friends, and brought us closer together.”

“Well, it helped me get closer to my friends when I attended events that they were involved in or event I went with them to.”

“I went to friends’ performances and they were very happy for my attendance. The arts also kept me open-minded.”

“Furthered my creative expression through writing – allowed me to express more easily who I am/my personality, which was satisfying on a personal level. Increased my appreciation for individuals with similar interest in arts. which led to me choosing certain friends over others as the ones to spend time with. Focused my studies on writing as a student as opposed to on another subject.”

Supported Friends

This set of reported impacts described the opportunities for and importance of supporting friends involved in the arts through attendance at arts activities. This support provided enjoyment through the arts, as well as appreciation for the opportunity to support their friends in something that was important to them.

This node differs from Strengthened Social Bonds in that these reported impacts focus on the more personal enjoyment of the shared activities and the rewards that come from both being a good friend and exploring your friends’ interests.

“Joining the Gargoyle made me many good friends. I also enjoyed going to shows with friends – especially those friends were in.”

“I was able to show my support for many friends and colleagues by attending shows, performances, exhibits, etc.”

“The biggest role is personal appreciation for the arts and appreciation for beauty. As a friend, I have attended many arts events simply to support my friends that are involved.”

“I felt like I gained a deeper appreciation for art and could go to events with friends and appreciate it together.”

“Many of my friends participate or hold leadership position in arts organizations. I support them as a friend and appreciate what they do. It was nice to be there and celebrate someone else’s accomplishments.”


Responses in the area of Identity have been split into three nodes – those responses that describe how engaging with the arts changed the way they view themselves (Became Part of Identity), impacted specific skills and abilities (Played a Developmental Role), or had little or no effect on their development in college (Didn’t Play a Role).

For those responses where students indicated that the arts led to changes in their identity, behavior, or abilities (Became Part of Identity), these changes are reported as overwhelmingly positive, and typically the response includes more than one area of reported change.

In Played a Developmental Role, students reported areas they personally developed with more specific descriptive skills or attributes, rather than or in addition to comments about their more overarching identity, behavior or life changes. These areas included things like critical thinking, psychological and social well-being, discipline, respect, open-mindedness, cultural awareness, communication, confidence and expression.

In the responses indicating the arts Didn’t Play a Role in their development in college, there was either no connection made between the arts and their development, or there was an indication that there might have been a role if there had been time for participation. These latter responses also sometimes indicated regret at not having been involved in the arts more in college, sometimes linked to concerns that increased participation in college arts might have distracted from career preparation and job success.

Became Part of Identity

Responses in this node speak to how experience in college with the arts led to increased self-awareness, improvements in abilities and skills, and better connections and friendships. Respondents also indicated an increased role for the arts in their life and activities.

“I found my true self. I became a better friend.”

“The arts helped me grow as a person and a student. I developed much better time management skills as well as effective organization skills. I also became better at communicating and handling conflict between others. Additionally, my involvement in the art led to some of my closest friendships during college.”

“Helped me develop patience, creativity in my approaches to problems, ability to articulate ideas about aesthetic qualities, ability to be in conflict with a friend without it being destructive to our friendship, and a greater sense of my personal responsibility in group endeavors.”

“I became much more interested in the arts during college. Before, it was just a hobby, but now it’s a profession and a lifestyle.”

Played a Developmental Role

A large number of student respondents not only said the arts played some role in their identity development, but also listed the kinds of things they gained in that development. Critical thinking, psychological and social well-being, discipline, respect, open-mindedness, cultural awareness, communication, confidence and expression were among these gains that contributed to their evolving identity in college.

“The arts have improved my critical thinking skills, as I have said before. The arts allow me to be more astute to my surroundings, and to critically analyze certain aspects of society that I may have otherwise overlooked. It does not allow me to be brainwashed into one way of thinking, and it taught me to analyze the details of certain societal situations so I can develop my own opinions.”

“I found the arts to play an enormous role in my psychological and social well being. Art is what has made me who I am today.”

“A huge role. I am surrounded by art every single day, so there is no way that it could not affect my development through college.”

“The same role it played while growing up. It taught me discipline, respect, and opened my mind to so many different cultures and beliefs that I wouldn’t have otherwise received.”

“Journaling played a huge role in increasing my understanding of myself and social/academic/ethical conflicts.”

Didn’t Play a Role

Responses in this node typically indicate that students could make little or no connection between their arts engagement in college and their development. This could have been a simple statement (without indication of their level of participation in the arts), or could indicate that their limited participation may have been a reason there was no particular impact. There were also statements of regret around their limited college arts participation, with the reported reasons being insufficient time or a perceived choice between arts involvement and a school/career focus.

“Arts didn’t play a role in my college.”

“Not a huge role because I didn’t do that much.”

“The arts played a very small role in my development. I like to talk about art with people, but that’s about it.”

“Did not play as much of a role as I would have wished due to time constraints.”

“I feel like I did most of the same things and acted the same ways as I did in high school, but in a more defined way due to living in a city that accommodates better to it with wider opportunities. I also feel regret for not doing more of it.”

“It played more of a role for me in high school, I genuinely appreciate the arts but found that during college I diverted my attention elsewhere due to the need to acquire a job after college.”

Different Perspectives

This node of responses focuses on the impact of the arts in college on gaining new perspectives, skills, cultural appreciations, and social connections, as they related to understanding others. Often, engagement in the arts contribute to an expanded world-view. Students also saw the importance of their arts engagement in developing appropriate work/life balance, or making them a more well-rounded and cultured individual.

New Social Connections and Skills

There are two sub-node topics derived from these responses, with an emphasis on new perspectives, social connections, skills or abilities – directly attributable to the respondents’ arts engagement in college. Reports of the development of specific new skills and abilities through engagement in the arts comprise the Gained Skills section of this node. Created New Social Bonds responses indicate that engagement in the arts has facilitated new and diverse connections to people as either friends or as artists.

Gained Skills

Among the major areas of skill development reported as linked to arts participation were time management, communication, confidence, leadership skills, organization, work ethic, creativity, analytical thinking and technical arts skills.

“It gave me time management skills to include all the practice time and competition time etc. communication skills to discuss with my partner all the various aspects of our dancing relationship.”

“Helped build my confidence, make friends, build relationships, developed my leadership skills, organization, and time management.”

“The arts helped me develop a strong work ethic, creativity, and time management skills.”

“Helped me organize myself, think analytically, and develop leadership skills.” 

“It allowed me to develop time management skills. I learned to get work done on time and plan out how I was going to do homework to work around my band commitments.”

Created New Social Bonds

This topic area includes responses that speak to making new friends either by engaging in shared arts interests or through the actual team aspects of arts production and student arts organizations (as opposed to improving existing relationships – Strengthened Social Bonds). The confidence to make new friends, share arts knowledge as social capital, or explore connections to a more diverse friend group are also reported. Finally, exploring new artists or arts experiences are described as avenues to creating these new social and interest community connections.

“Broadened world-view, met a number of diverse people.”

“The arts provided a vehicle for me to hang out with friends and meet new people.”

“Met a lot of new people, became thoroughly engrossed in a lot of different arts ventures.”

“I’m not sure. I definitely got close to people through the arts, and was able to relate more to different people through the arts. I developed more of an appreciation for different types of art, so my tastes broadened. I think I learned to appreciate different types of people more through the diverse types of art that I experienced and enjoyed through college.” 

“My love for and tastes in music and film have certainly grown and developed over the past four years, in part due to my friends and in part to the university and the opportunities that were provided. I think my friends have come to know me as a person who loves music and movies, and they rely on me for honest reviews and recommendations. Even when they don’t ask for it, I love to show people new artists I’m into or discuss classic films or the newest releases.”

Deeper Appreciation

A more singular node of responses in the Different Perspectives section, students indicate in Deeper Appreciation, predictably, that involvement in the arts led to a deeper appreciation of the arts themselves, and of the effects the arts can have on individuals. These include arts interest, creativity, and emotional health.

“The arts have been a mechanism through which I have learned many important lessons in many of my classes. It has made me realize that art can move me, and can move others. It has made me appreciate others more, and made me appreciate my own creativity and desire to inspire creativity in others.”

“Going to art events with friends helped me socialize, helped me open my mind, and become more accepting and open to hearing others.”

“I have a more open mind now and it enhanced my social skills.”

“It made me want to go to Florence, Italy for my semester abroad and study art history. It makes me constantly strive for creativity and it makes me appreciate little things in life.” 

“I wouldn’t say the arts contributed to my development too much per say, but it did offer me some insight into the subject that I wouldn’t have had before. It also improved my mood since I enjoyed spending time with the arts.”

More Open Minded

Multiple student responses under Different Perspectives: Deeper Appreciation includes the phrase “open-minded,” expressing that attribute as a necessary and well-understood ingredient to a greater or deeper understanding in all things. Under the Open-Mindedness node, the two sub-nodes reflect two areas where arts engagement create specific opportunities to better understand and appreciate both the global and the personal perspective. Student respondents in the Cultural Understanding node describe interaction with the arts engendering in them an expanded worldview that embraces both cultural differences and diverse viewpoints. The importance of a balanced, self-aware, and well-rounded life are the insights derived through the arts and illustrated in the student responses in the Finding Balance in Life node.

Cultural Understanding

The responses in this section speak about the way engaging with the world through the arts created new knowledge, as well as understanding of cultural differences and diverse perspectives. The arts also served as an effective way to express and communicate cultural knowledge to others.

“Involvement in the arts gave me a broader understanding of the ways and methods of self-expression and cultural differences.”

“The Arts helped me understand different peoples’ perspectives (and the different perspectives of people from different cultures than myself) in a way that a textbook never could. This new understanding helped me develop into a more caring, compassionate, and socially-aware person. This new understanding also fueled my desire to pursue a career in immigration law.”

“It’s so corny, but they helped me grow as person and see the world from different point of views.”

“If I weren’t a reader and writer I wouldn’t appreciate the different ways that people see the world and be able to better understand them.”

“Being surrounded by creative people has given me a much fuller and broader appreciation for what beauty and creativity look like, and how they can be manifested in different forms. This has helped me better understand the way different people see and experience the world and the different things they appreciate. Visual arts, graphic design, and architecture have immensely strengthened my communication skills – both verbal and visual.”

Finding Balance in Life

Student responses in this topic area predictably speak to the role the arts play in developing a balanced and full life, but also in developing personal perspectives that contribute to this ideal well-rounded state. Organization, knowledge, reflection, contemplation, reliability, gratitude, creativity, self-awareness, and expression were the kinds of outcomes that students reported contributed to a desirable life balance.

“Helped me to define my own sense of identity, helped me to find balance in my time between school work/social life/personal enjoyment.”

“The arts have helped my continue a balanced lifestyle (by helping to relieve stress), and they have also helped me become a more “cultured” person by viewing art from different cultures.”

“It helped me become more organized and develop professionally. It also helped me get a better view on the world and appreciate what I have.”

“They helped facilitate and nurture friendships and helped me grow into the person I am by accumulating different experiences.”

“It helped me explore my own beliefs and contemplate new knowledge and perspectives I gained from other people and their experiences. Art helped me become a more open-minded, thoughtful, and well-rounded person.”