The Introduction begins by discussing the three students focused on throughout the book, describing their friendship networks. This chapter reviews literature on higher education in the US, particularly research on social networks, the importance of peers, college friendships, and race, class, and gender inequalities in higher education. To the list of explanations provided for educational inequalities, this book adds the structure and content of undergraduates’ friendship networks—that is, the connections (or lack of connections) between students’ friends and what happens in the interactions among friends matter for young adults’ success in college and beyond. Next, the chapter explains the study site and methods. It is based on a case study of “MU,” a large public research university located in the Midwestern US. The research is mixed-methods and longitudinal, combining multiple methods (interviews, focus groups, ethnographic observations, network analysis, surveys, and archival analysis) and tracking participants over a 5-year period. Connecting rich descriptions of students’ experiences with detailed maps of their friendships over time provides a unique lens on the lasting academic and social benefits and disadvantages of friends. The introduction ends with an overview of the organization of the book.
Keywords: friendships, college students, young adults, networks, research methods