By: Patricia Moore Shaffer
Principal & CEO
Creating a sense of belonging on campus is crucial for the success and well-being of all students, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds. This post explores strategies to increase a sense of belonging for underrepresented students and discusses the importance of measuring outcomes to assess the effectiveness of these strategies.
Creating Inclusive Spaces
To foster a sense of belonging, it is essential to create inclusive spaces on campus. This can be achieved by establishing affinity groups, cultural centers, or student organizations that cater to the needs and interests of underrepresented students. For example, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Multicultural Student Center provides a safe and welcoming environment for students from diverse backgrounds to connect, share experiences, and celebrate their identities and cultures. By offering these spaces, institutions demonstrate their commitment to inclusivity and provide opportunities for underrepresented students to build a supportive community.
Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Multicultural Student Center
Mentorship and Support Programs
Mentorship and support programs play a vital role in enhancing a sense of belonging for underrepresented students. Pairing them with faculty, staff, or upperclassmen who share similar backgrounds or experiences can provide guidance, encouragement, and a sense of validation. For instance, the College Navigator Mentorship Program at the University of Arizona supports students of DACA, undocumented, immigrant, and refugee backgrounds to establish a stronger community at the UA.
The program supports students’ and families’ interests in and navigation of college and post-college endeavors, empowers students with their own narratives to navigate their educational experiences, and centers health and wellness, building community, and fostering belonging. By offering these programs, institutions demonstrate their commitment to supporting underrepresented students and help them navigate the challenges they may face.
Curriculum and Representation
Incorporating diverse perspectives and experiences into the curriculum is essential for creating an inclusive learning environment. By including readings, case studies, and examples that reflect the experiences of underrepresented communities, institutions validate the identities and contributions of these students. Additionally, ensuring diverse representation among faculty and staff can also contribute to a sense of belonging. These initiatives help students see themselves reflected in the academic environment and feel valued as members of the campus community.
Measuring the outcomes of initiatives aimed at increasing a sense of belonging is crucial to assess their effectiveness and make necessary improvements. Some key metrics to consider include:
Retention and Graduation Rates
Tracking the retention and graduation rates of underrepresented students can provide insights into the impact of these initiatives. Higher retention and graduation rates indicate that students feel supported and connected to the campus community.
Student Surveys and Feedback
Conducting regular surveys and seeking feedback from underrepresented students can provide valuable insights into their experiences and perceptions of belonging on campus. This feedback can help identify areas for improvement and guide future initiatives.
Participation and Engagement
Monitoring the participation and engagement of underrepresented students in campus activities, clubs, and organizations can indicate their level of connection and involvement. Increased participation suggests a stronger sense of belonging and integration into the campus community.
Creating a sense of belonging on campus for underrepresented students is crucial for their success and well-being. By implementing strategies such as creating inclusive spaces, mentorship programs, and diverse representation, institutions can foster a supportive environment. Measuring outcomes through retention rates, student surveys, and participation levels allows institutions to assess the effectiveness of these initiatives and make necessary improvements.
By continuously striving to enhance a sense of belonging, institutions can ensure that underrepresented students feel valued, supported, and empowered to thrive in their college experience.