At the intersection of safety and belonging: a reverse mentoring exploration of student and campus police relationships in higher education


  • Rachael O'Connor


Through analysis of reflections from a pilot reverse mentoring study which saw five international students mentoring a police higher education liaison officer (PHELO), this piece explores the role of PHELOs in the sense of belonging agenda across the higher education (HE) sector. It acknowledges that, to date, research on interactions between PHELOs and students is scarce in the UK context, as opposed to the international context Although recent research has shone a spotlight on police and security interactions on campus during and since the COVID-19 pandemic, this has not focused on PHELOs specifically. Seeking to begin to plug this gap, the discussion explores findings from the reverse mentoring project around motivations for getting involved in community initiatives with PHELOs, the benefits students and the PHELO took from the experience and how it changed their perspectives on other authority/student relationships. The most unique contribution of this piece is its longitudinal insight into the impact of reverse mentoring in HE via analysis of a follow-up interview with the PHELO mentee one year after the project ended. This piece advocates for an increased focus on engaging PHELOs (and related staff such as security teams) more meaningfully in HE belonging work, given a growing number of issues relating to student safety negatively impacting student experiences, particularly for students from backgrounds which are marginalised in HE. It makes a number of proposals for how reverse mentoring could be further utilised across campus communities to pursue enhanced belonging and safety for all, prioritising perspectives and experiences of students from under-represented backgrounds.


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How to Cite

O’Connor, R. (2024). At the intersection of safety and belonging: a reverse mentoring exploration of student and campus police relationships in higher education . Student Engagement in Higher Education Journal, 5(3), 126–153. Retrieved from