Emotional Impacts Topic Descriptions

We estimated a topic model with 14 topics, 1207 open-ended responses, and a 286 word dictionary. (after removing stop words). The resulting topics are interpreted and described in the accompanying sections, and detailed methods for estimating the model can be found in the section on Topic Modeling and Interpretation.

This question “How did your involvement in the arts during college make you feel?” was asked to elicit what the range of emotional responses to arts engagement in college might encompass for students. If the arts are an “expressive dialogue between the artist and the audience,” being able to articulate feelings associated with that engagement describes a whole universe of outcomes that may be associated with becoming more Enlightened. There are also negative emotions reported, such as being frustrated or discouraged, as art often deals with challenging subject matter, difficult mastery and technique challenges, and working with others under the conditions of fierce aesthetic direction and unrelenting deadlines.

Student respondents involved in the arts reported feelings of being empowered and fulfilled, successful and accomplished, connected and culturally aware, happy and entertained, balanced and expressive, grateful and meaningful, and refreshed and less stressed. There were also a large number of students who expressed some level of regret in having not participated in the arts in college to a greater extent.


Enlightened: Having greater knowledge and understanding about a subject or situation

Synonyms: informed, aware, educated, knowledgeable, learned, wise, literate, intellectual, tutored, illuminated, apprised, civilized, refined, cultured, cultivated, sophisticated, advanced, developed, liberal, open-minded, broad-minded

Connected and Empowered

Creating a sense of connectedness, and empowering students to feel accomplished and creative are among the major findings of this subnode of Connected and Empowered. This topic also includes response categories where students recognize the value of arts engagement as an important stress reliever and as a way to better express themselves in a variety of settings.

Connected to Others through the Arts

In contrast to later nodes on this topic strand, Connected to Others through the Arts contains student responses that connect them less to specific peers or support systems, and more to the overall arts community on campus. They appreciate and want to support the effort other students make in art-creation, and they are thoughtful about how they are connected to that community through their art-making or attendance. This connection to their involved peers also inspires them to be more arts-focused, or discourages them through their own perceived deficiencies in the arts or creative endeavors.

“Good, giving me more perspective and see what other people spend a ton of time doing . They work hard and it’s cool to see the final project, whether it’s a performance or piece of art.”

“It makes me feel connected with the rest of the student body. I may not be able to personally work in some of the events that I attend, but I am able to understand and appreciate the amount of work and dedication that was put in by those who I observe. I m able to get an impression of the rest of my fellow students and of their work. My involvement also allows me to explore parts of my interests which are not purely academically related. Despite the fact that I am truly dedicated to what I do, the arts allow me to at least be interested in areas that I do not personally participate in.”

“It made me feel super connected to the world around me. Upon arriving, I gave myself the goal to attend at least one artistic show each week, and with all of the opportunities at Michigan, I was able to fulfill my goal. Attending these shows allowed me to become informed about all different kinds of art forms and it allowed me to understand my own art form further.”

“Like I was giving people the opportunity to express themselves.”

“Inspired, but almost discouraged also. I felt that I could never produce art as well or successfully as what I was seeing. Or discouraged that I did not even have the inspiration to produce something, even if I wanted to.”


The feeling of being Empowered through engagement in the arts was expressed by more than one-fifth of student respondents. Their arts participation in college made them feel Successful, Accomplished and Creative. Choosing to engage in the arts also helped students to be Less Stressed and More Expressive. Student respondents recognized the power of the arts in these areas, and knew they could use that power to improve themselves, their college experience, their future, and the world.

Less Stressed and More Expressive

Less Stressed and More Expressive, especially as a counterpoint to students’ academic pursuits, was a recurring theme. As part of the Empowered subnode, these responses could also be viewed as students’ recognizing the value of the arts, as well as their agency in pursuing them, as a means to stress relief. Through arts engagement, students describe feeling less stressed, refreshed, better able to engage with new ideas and thinking, and able to apply more creativity and expressiveness to other areas of their lives.

“It was a release and allowed for me to relieve my stress and tension from being in engineering classes only doing math and science problems all day. The arts allowed for me to add personality to my work.”

“I think my involvement has given me a much more open view of myself and the world, and has allowed me to express myself in different ways.”

“It allowed me to release stress from my classes and be more creative than most classes allow.”

“I’m a civil engineer and often spend the majority of my time thinking analytically and technically. My exposure to the arts has been a nice contrast, opening up my mind to a whole new way of thinking/expression.”

“Artistic and creative. Especially made me feel expressive in a different way than my everyday life. It was a wonderful way to escape and have fun escaping.”

“Being involved in the arts always leave me feeling refreshed and much more open-minded. It is a nice way to think outside of the classroom and develop opinions.”


This area of topic responses focus on those feelings students associated with accomplishment, connectedness, pride, and creativity. Excitement was also frequently expressed, as co-curricular engagement is often predicated on personal enthusiasm with the topic – in this case, with the arts.


It is interesting that student respondents in this topic area express that they feel both pride and frustration stemming from their engagement in the arts. This may be because these two emotions are linked around the challenges that arts engagement engenders (time, skill, deadlines, creative conflict) creating an opportunity to succeed (creating pride in their work) – or fail (creating frustration). The arts, like anything else when done well, require hard work, and often require the contributions of others.

Feeling Proud also lead to expressions of feeling special or unique, or to heightened personal connectedness which again highlights the student as an individual worthy of attention. Connectedness in this node was more directly tied to peers and personal support systems rather than to the more abstract connectedness associated with the student body engaged with student in supporting the arts, society, or the global community as a whole (as in Connected to Others through the Arts).

“Proud of what I created. It’s rewarding to have physical evidence of your work.”

“It has made me feel just about every way I know how to feel. But mostly… frustrated!”

“Creative, excited, inspired, at peace, unique.”

“Good knowing I have a special creativity and others had their own too; a great supportive system.”

“Proud, something to look back on and feel that I did something that not many other people did. It is also impressive considering hundreds of people watched me on stage.”

“It made me feel important, as though my voice mattered and I could create things that I could look back on with pride. The evolution of my fiction writing is one of the most important things that’s happened to me while at college.”

Accomplished and Creative

As part of the Empowered stem, students responded with feelings of being both both Accomplished and Creative. This pairing may be important in that responses in this area link students’ creative expression with accomplishment as a counter or complement to their academic achievements – indicating that it is their own judgement that renders the experience meaningful rather than other more typical college measures of success. Students also reported that having a creative outlet improved or enhanced their academic experience, perhaps also adding to their sense of accomplishment through the arts.
“I felt alive and accomplished”
“I felt accomplished and free to express myself void of judgement. I felt like it was more acceptable for me to sing like I want to (with effort and emotion) when I am playing guitar.”
“I feel very accomplished after I finish a creative project. I feel more connected to a creative project than I do when I study for an objective exam or finish some memorization homework. I feel like it uses more critical thinking, and I feel more connected to the project and I learn the material better.”
“Being involved in the arts during college has been an amazing outlet of creativity and passion for me; without it, my collegiate experience would have been reduced tremendously.”
“Empowered, creative, and encouraged that I don’t have to give up art even if I’m busy with academic stuff.”


Student respondents in this topic strand of Fulfilled are speaking to how engaging in the arts made them better contributors in social settings, in groups to which they belonged, or to the greater good. They expressed their feelings of being more personally well-rounded and, with the knowledge, aesthetic appreciation and deeper understanding they gained through arts engagement, better able to more competently engage in their craft, with peers and with audience members. They also said they felt as though they belonged in more contexts – arts groups, social settings, and the greater community. In addition, they saw this belonging and contribution an important part of something greater than themselves – either the creative enterprise in which they were engaged, or the greater ideas, culture, or community to which the arts contribute.


Having the arts in their lives at college had students reporting they felt more Well Rounded and Connected. This created an environment in which their arts experiences felt Meaningful to them developing into someone who could belong and contribute to their arts organization, the arts community, the University, and to the world. The found themselves becoming more competent, confident, and expressive in their abilities, and engaging from a broader perspective and appreciation for the arts.

Well Rounded

The phrase Well Rounded often occurs in students descriptions as an outcome of arts engagement, which is here reported as a result of having the new, high-quality and expansive arts opportunities afforded them at U-M. Arts engagement is also described as contributing to students’ “well-roundedness” because a large number of them receive little or no arts exposure through their majors or curriculum. Students also reported that being engaged as an art-maker made them feel they were important in contributing to the arts-rich environment that had expanded them and, therefore, could expand others.

“Well rounded, educated, important.”

“When I saw a play I felt as though I was taking advantage of … being at the University which offers an immense amount of opportunities to see ‘high quality’ art.”

“It made me feel well rounded and like I was fully taking advantage of all the university has to offer. “That I am taking advantage of all the diverse opportunities U of M offers, and that my experience was made a little richer.” 

“It made me feel more educated and well rounded, it also made me feel that I had the ability to have more intellectual conversations with anyone.”


Belonging, contributing, broadening and appreciating, students indicated that the arts had helped them build connections to their peers, to knowledge, and to the greater creative community of appreciation and practice. Having become more Connected meant becoming more talented, educated, and conversant leading to the confidence to fully join with their communities at U-M and beyond (Gained Perspective and Appreciation). Feeling a sense of really belonging to an arts group built peer relationships and a sense of self-in-place at college. Students also reported feeling connected to the important act of arts creation itself – of “making something great”. Finally, as a student they were able to see themselves and their efforts as contributing something important to a greater good – artistically, socially and societally (Part of Something Bigger).

Part of Something Bigger

To feel like they belonged somewhere at college, or that they were a part of something larger than themselves, or that they were achieving something beyond what they thought they could individually – these are the emotional responses reported in the topic area Part of Something Bigger. Students acknowledge the important connections to their peers and to the greater community that were achieved through the arts, and they were moved by their role in the creation of something bigger than themselves – either due to group effort or by being an active member of a community of artists and audience members. They also reported feeling their contribution to this “greater” outcome was important and appreciated. Finally, students spoke about their arts engagement giving them a sense of purpose (Meaningful).

“I felt that I was a part of something and that I had something to contribute to a group and a vision and to making that vision a reality.”

“It made me feel like I was growing in a whole new capacity that I didn’t know was possible. Good, like I’m a part of something bigger than myself and bigger than this university.”

“Like I’m a part of something important.”

“I feel now that I am contributing to the world in a very important, positive way that can affect everyone, not only local audiences.”

“Like I had purpose.” 

“It made me feel talented–being part of an arts organization is a great way to make yourself feel like you’re part of something, and if you’re good at what you do, it makes it that much better–especially when other people appreciate your work.”

Gained Perspective and Appreciation

Gaining knowledge, a broader perspective, and a deeper appreciation of the arts is reported by students as a result of engagement in the arts. Students indicated these gains allowed them to be more involved, engaged and expressive in their lives, and led to feeling they were themselves “larger”.

“It made me feel important having the skill sets that can potentially increase involvement.”

“Broadened my perspective and made me feel like I was gaining a new perspective and appreciation.”

“It made me feel more educated and well rounded, it also made me feel that I had the ability to have more intellectual conversations with anyone.”

“It made me feel as though I was gaining knowledge.”

“It made me feel competent, accomplished, gave me an opportunity to express myself as well as gain a greater appreciation of the arts.”

“Made me feel better appreciation for areas of art that I hadn’t had exposure to before college.”


Feeling Balanced and Gratified, students recognized and appreciated that the opportunities that U-M gave them through arts engagement in college contributed to their lives in ways that would be hard to experience without the diverse, resourced, and high-achieving environment typical at selective public institutions (Gratitude). Students were grateful for having the arts readily available on campus to serve as a complement and restorative to academic demands. Having access to an array of rich arts offerings served as a vehicle for developing increased cultural awareness and knowledge, which enriched their lives and broadened their interests. They felt Grateful for the happiness they had experienced and the opportunities they had had through the art. They also speculated on and appreciated how these experiences would have positive long-term effects on their lives beyond college.


In this mixed response node, students reported that they felt relaxed and refreshed when they used arts engagement as a break or counterpoint to their regular or routine activities and coursework, and they also felt more culturally aware, knowledgeable and confident. Reflecting on what brings these areas together, we thought this node was similar to Well Rounded in that student are seeing themselves as whole persons who could use the arts to expand and increase their knowledge and experience at college, and be a more Balanced person in the process.

Culturally Aware

The arts have always been seen as a way to connect to cultures different than one’s own, and students in this project affirmed this to us through their responses as well. Students said that through their arts engagement they felt they had become more Culturally Aware and knowledgeable, and this changed their behavior, interests, and levels of involvement.

“Great. I was very proud to see my friends perform and I was able to learn more about how dance relates to their culture.”

“Like a different person than I was in high school – more “cultured.”

“More knowledgeable about the things around me. I used to be a science student interested in the arts. Now I am in architecture.”

“Culturally aware and interested.”

“Wonderful. culturally immersed”

“Cultured, and outgoing. Did a lot of things that I never would have thought about doing in high school”


Students reported that engaging in the arts were a welcome alternative to their regular academic work activities, and routines, and such “breaks” led to feeling Refreshed or restored, interest in having life-long connections to the arts, and just generally feeling happier than they would have otherwise.

“Taking art history and a drawing class in Florence while abroad was a breath of fresh air. it was unlike any class I’d taken at Michigan and I truly loved them.”

“Taking time to truly enjoy arts make me realize that these kinds of leisure activities are what completes life :)”

“It was so fulfilling to be a part of, and made me realize how much I want the arts to always be a part of my life.”

“Being involved in the arts always leave me feeling refreshed and much more open-minded. It is a nice way to think outside of the classroom and develop opinions.”

“Much happier and freer.”


“The arts make me think of a different view on life. I don’t get a chance to experience them a lot, but when I do it’s very refreshing.”


Students reported being Happy and Grateful for the range of experiences, connections, and opportunities the arts afforded them at U-M populate student responses in the Gratified node. They understand and appreciate everything they gained from their arts experiences – their friends, their skills, their enjoyment, their personal development – in other words, they feel Gratified to have had the opportunities afforded them at the University. In the arts, they said, they found a home.


“Grateful that I am still able to continue dancing and even take classes through the UM Dance Department. I also feel very lucky for having UMS and School of Music, Theater, and Dance performances, among other arts events, to go to. However, I also wish I had more time to be more involved in the arts during college.”

“It was wonderful to put on our Slam/Open Mics every two weeks: I loved the feeling of our regulars coming back every time, changing with us, sharing their changes with us”

“It makes me thankful and grateful for the previous experiences that I have had.”

“More thankful for their presence in shaping the human experience.”

“Made me feel like I was making the most of college by seeking out a well rounded experience.”


“I loved every minute of Irish dance practice. Because I became so close to all the team members, I loved being at practice even when it was 4 hours long. Dancing made me happy, both because I developed a new skill and because of the team I was dancing with.”

“I love being a part of the MMB. I met my best friends through being a member of the band.”

“I have loved my involvement in the arts at Michigan. It has made me feel valued. It has also been great socially and made me happy.”

“My involvement in Glee Club makes me feel happy! I also feel very supported, as glee club is a close group of girls that I feel I can depend on.”

“Confident, intelligent, happy.”


Students describe feeling good when they engaged in the arts, speaking about the enjoyment they received from participation. This node seems to be speaking primarily to the contribution the arts made to feeling Entertained, as a pastime with value, in that it created that sense of having fun and well-being.

“Good. I really enjoy all performances I go to.”

“The rare occasion where I could see a show, I really enjoyed myself. It was very relaxing and definitely made me appreciate the arts.”

“I really enjoyed participating in the arts and it made the college feel a little smaller and more intimate”

“In the times I have participated, it definitely brings a sense of enjoyment to me. Also, there have been times when I’ve seen art that is meant to question or criticize, and I definitely felt those emotions, as well.” 

“Good, enjoyable.”


A large percentage of students reported feeling disappointed in having not engaged in the arts in college as much as they would have wished, and were left feeling Uninvolved. They expressed a desire for more arts engagement, and many indicated that they knew that engagement would have been valuable to them. While there are likely those respondents in this group that did not engage in the arts due to lack of interest, those that expressed being Regretful or Wishful about their lack of engagement said that time and other constraints were the typical reasons, rather than disinterest.


Student expressed regret in not being involved in the arts more in college, often while acknowledging the benefits they know they could gain through such involvement. They also often expressed regret at having been involved in the arts in the past in a meaningful, more personal way that had to be curtailed or abandoned in college.

“I am disappointed that I do not have a greater involvement in the arts. My involvement has declined between my Freshman and Junior years due to other responsibilities.”

“They would probably make me feel pretty good, if I were involved in any. I still enjoy going to concerts and performances, but I really miss performing.”

“Made me feel sad that I wasn’t still involved.”

“Annoyed that I couldn’t get involved”

“Fulfilled, yet overwhelmed. I didn’t continue with variety after freshman year due to time constraints.”

“I don’t do anything, I wish I did.”


Student used the word “wish” around their not being involved in the arts more in college, often while both describing both accompanying positive or negative feelings (i.e accomplished, guilty, appreciative, sad) and a suggestion about a range of factors that might have impeded their engagement in college (time, talent, information, resources).

“Accomplished. I feel bad that I didn’t continue my violin playing as much as I’d anticipated, but I just didn’t have enough time or the correct resources”

“Guilty, because I am rarely involved in the arts now, and I would like to become more involved, but I have limited time.”

“I wish I could be involved but am not talented enough or don’t have time.”

“Like I don’t have enough time to do what I would enjoy doing. I never felt like I had the free time to go to rehearsals or practice.”

“Sad that I haven’t been more involved. I wish I had more time to attend events.”


“I wish I had more ways to continue choir but there was not enough information and I felt like it’s too late after a while.”