While age and enrollment status are key, the other demographics here also speak loudly: over half of our students are female and first generation with no or limited prior college experience, our occupational awards are equal to our transfer degrees, and, as an HSI, Hispanics make up more of our student population than any other ethnicity. Furthermore, we know our classrooms are also serving neurodivergent populations and those impacted by the current and severe mental health crisis. This is our community, and as a community college, our purpose is to serve the community in making all decisions with the following foresight: “How does this support our students?” A sense of belonging on campus is a paramount part of the puzzle, and as faculty, staff, and administration, we play the most essential role in fostering it. It starts with us. According to Sparks (2021), “A Review of Educational Research analysis of 46 studies found that strong teacher-student relationships were associated . . . with improvements on practically every measure schools care about: higher student academic engagement, attendance, grades, fewer disruptive behaviors. . . .” Furthermore, Maslow (1943) asserts belonging is one of the five basic needs associated with human motivation. We know our students are more likely to feel motivated and will be more likely to succeed and fulfill self-efficacy when they feel belongingness. A very wise special needs parent advocate once told me, “The child will always determine the place.” Meaning, if the student feels belongingness, then they will only thrive in the right place. Angelou believed in belonging to herself: “You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great…” (Goodreads, 2023). So, what does it mean to belong, and more importantly, how do we foster it on our campus?
To me, belonging means fitting in through: feeling a part of something greater, being respected and valued for my contributions, being recognized for my strengths and allowed weaknesses, and trusting my identity is also recognized and accepted. It isn’t new, and it is more than a buzzword. Thus, belonging is something I actively think about and plan for in my work as faculty at GCC. I’m not great with small talk, and I’d much prefer to simply get to work, but I try to make an effort to talk to my students when they come to class, know their preferred names and pronunciations, meet them where they are, offer referrals to other campus resources, welcome each one when they enter, offer them snacks, craft assignments which connect them to the content and their communities, constantly post campus events and happenings in Canvas Announcements, craft warmer-toned emails, use messaging in Canvas if they have fallen off of the radar, offer diverse readings, demonstrate gratitude and empathy when they share their circumstance with me, use music and humor, offer flexibility, maintain high standards and clear expectations, recruit for ENH112: Chicano Literature in hopes that it makes again (pero sin éxito), be real and do my best to be vulnerable and human if I make a mistake (post-COVID brain fog is real) or share a learning from my own experience. I have also been using Pear Deck to do emotional temperature “Check-ins.”
I’m not alone in these things. They are happening all over campus every day, all day. I know my colleagues and their commitment to the shared responsibility. I’m thinking to foster belonging on campus even more, possibly bolstering the concept of students belonging every place, it would take a team-approach where all of the current efforts are centralized, and we really seek a shared understanding and visibly address the invisible barriers for our students we may not be aware of.
Goodreads. (2023). A quote from conversations with Maya Angelou (literary conversations. Goodreads. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/904289-you-only-are-free-when-you-realize-you-belong-no
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50 (4), 370-96.
Sparks, S. D. (2021, September 17). Why teacher-student relationships matter. Education Week. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/why-teacher-student-relationships-matter/2019/03#:~:text=A%20Review%20of%20Educational%20Research,fewer%20disruptive%20behaviors%20and%20suspensions%2C