The importance of fostering a culture of belonging

Editor’s Note: Dr. Terrie Hampton-Jones’ article is the first in a series of faculty/staff-written pieces offering practical tips and course takeaways by Association of College and University Educators “Fostering a Culture of Belonging” course participants. ACUE courses are offered in partnership with the Council of Independent Colleges.

By Dr. Terrie Hampton-Jones

In the South, nicknames are a sign of affection or familiarity. If true, “The Creek” — the name our students often use for their home at Campbell University — signifies a sense of belonging to our campus community.

Dr. Terrie Hampton-Jones

The question is: How can we create this sense of belonging for all of our students? According to the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE), focusing on student belonging is the key to stronger and more equitable achievement.

The ACUE model provides faculty and staff with professional development tools to support a safe, positive and inclusive environment, therefore “fostering a culture of belonging.” The training informs us that we all have biases. These biases can be about media, culture, music or any other topic (some we learned from family, some we were taught by others and some of which we are not even aware).

The point is that we should recognize our biases, because as educators and support staff, we shape and inform the learning environment. The ACUE Belong training offers research-based strategies and testimonials of professional educators and others in higher education to support the process. Listed here are recommended starting points to create a culture of belonging:

  • Get to know the students.
  • Become and continue as a reflective practitioner of unconscious biases.
  • Remove deficit assumptions about any group of students and replace these with an asset-based mindset — an approach that focuses on any given individual’s strengths, positive traits and values.
  • Use feedback to inform your inclusive practices.
  • Use empathy to create equitable learning experiences. For example, implement surveys, anonymous grading, meetings with students, discussions and activities that support getting to know your students.
  • Design class policies and procedures that reflect an understanding of students. To allow for flexibility, remove terms like zero tolerance and no exceptions.
  • Incorporate the use of rubrics for grading.
  • Create projects, lessons and experiences that allow students to express cultural identity.
  • Take notice of whether students of color volunteer in your class or take part in campus activities.

Campbell University aims to build a culture of belonging for everyone in “The Creek.” The responsibility of faculty and staff is to lead with purpose, mentor student success through exceptional teaching and practice the appreciation of others by actively fostering a culture of belonging inside and outside of the classroom.

Additional Belong resources are available in the CU Belong Resource Library: