Fostering a Sense of Belonging Within North Dakota State University

Sense of Identity

Research done by college psychology in the United States reminds us that “when students feel accepted, included, and have a sense of identity, they are said to feel like they belong”.  It happens when a person can present their true self within the environment. 

Student’s academic performance and personal lives suffer when they do not feel like they belong on campus. Improving engagement and performance requires cultivating a true sense of belonging for everyone.

It also supports organizational objectives. To enhance and guarantee that the university’s programs are effective in preparing students for successful careers.

An increasing body of research shows that student equality as well as success and persistence on campus depend on students’ sense of belonging. Higher grades, retention rates, and levels of involvement are all associated with feeling appreciated, welcomed, and valued. 

Many universities find it difficult to significantly improve these parts of the student experience, and they frequently rely simply on general student affairs programs like anti-bias education or promoting extracurricular involvement.

Campuses, however, frequently ignore the ways in which academic structures can enhance students’ feeling of community in their majors, on campus, and in the classroom.  Institutions that encounter high-profile bias incidents struggle to recruit and retain students which is something some colleges are even dealing with.  When institutions provide a warm environment, as a result, there is a boost in enrollment and retention.

Peer assistance is a common practice on campuses to promote a feeling of community. It can help students with academic motivation and social networks when they are able to develop friendships. Study groups can be formed, and members can check in with one another while dealing with major tasks, recognize one another’s successes, and regularly decompress. 

When interacting with academics and professional staff, students frequently encounter a trust barrier. This can sometimes be brought on by a past of tense relationships. Peers, however, get through this obstacle since they are willing to interact with and share knowledge with one another.

Peers are typically more approachable and easier to connect with for students than faculty or staff members, which can be especially helpful for all students, in particular minority students.  “Minorities have the same difficulties in higher education as they do in other spheres of life, because there aren’t many instructors or other students who share their racial or ethnic heritage, minority students may feel excluded in some colleges,” according to the American Council of Education.

Students may feel anxious or ashamed to approach a professor or staff person.

The ability to feel a sense of belonging is important for students to stick with a major. A recent study published by the Public Library of Science states that women are more likely than men to drop out of STEM disciplines, which includes science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and Latinx and Black students are more likely to do so than white students.

The researchers contend that these pupils experience preconceptions that exacerbate their exclusionary emotions. However, students may choose not to pursue a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) because the subjects are difficult and demanding.

Faculty can influence students’ sense of belonging in the classroom, which has a significant impact on student equity, by enforcing inclusive pedagogy in any field of study.  Professors can flip the classroom such that more time is spent in class on activities and group discussions and less time is spent in class engaging in classroom activities. 

Inclusivity and belonging can look like a lot of different things. Graphics Credit | Madison Pilon

Additionally, professors improve clarity and structure to provide students with a clear understanding of the course and the assignments they must complete before, during, and after class, and use inclusive strategies to facilitate class discussions to promote involvement from all students.

Campus administrators at North Dakota State University should foster a sense of belonging among all students since doing so can help remove obstacles to equity and aid in the development of highly successful students. Student success and equity are key priorities for the university. 

Doctor David Cook, the president of NDSU, recently issued a warning that severe budget cuts are imminent due to ongoing enrollment declines, which would result in a $10.5 million reduction in state financing from 2023 to 2025. This will force significant program realignments at the university.  The goal is to invest in programs that the workforce needs within the state by reducing the seven academic programs to just five. 

Students who require degrees to succeed in today’s economy but may not fit in, such as master’s degrees in business administration, data science, project management, or strategic communication, may find it more cost-effective and accessible to transfer to another institution where their career goals can be fulfilled.

High levels of academic performance and engagement are closely tied to a sense of belonging on campus. 

Students who feel more a part of the Bison community work together more effectively, can solve problems, and make wiser choices. Students cannot completely contribute to North Dakota State University until they feel a sense of belonging, which allows them to share ideas, and speak up with confidence. The power and value of diversity are unlocked by creating a healthy sense of belonging.

So, let us make deliberate connections between faculty and students to nurture our sense of belonging. Form formal or informal mentor programs to foster trusting relationships. Encourage the exchange of ideas and perspectives. 

Solicit feedback and ideas from all members, particularly students. Engage in deliberate storytelling, where faculty and students can share their personal experiences. Understanding aspects of another person’s story can help break down interpersonal barriers and reveal the many layers, dimensions, and experiences of a student we would not otherwise know. It allows people to be seen, heard and develop a deep sense of belonging.  

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