Start a New School Year With Belonging

By: Dr. Susan B. Wilson, Ph.D MBA, Vice Chancellor of the Division of Diversity and Inclusion

A new academic year begins again. Whether you are new to UMKC, or have been here for a while, a sense of belonging is important to living, working and learning at UMKC. No matter how independent, no one wants to feel like he or she is on an “island.”

What do we mean by “belonging?” Belonging means being accepted and included as a part of a group. Belonging is a basic human need, and without it we feel lonely and disconnected. Research shows that social connections and relationships with others is important to our health and wellbeing. When we have social support, we are able to feel that we are not alone in our struggles, and we have others with whom we can celebrate our successes.

Unfortunately, some of us pursue belonging by excluding others—creating “in” and “out” groups.  We follow a “birds of a feather flock together” mentality because it creates a comfort zone for us. We may not realize that our exclusion of others creates profound pain and discomfort that can have real consequences.

If you are a new student, faculty or staff member, the question is “how do a build a sense of belonging?” The first step involves reaching out to others and trying actively to get involved. If you don’t find the connections you are looking for at first, don’t give up. Find others with similar interests who have ideas about how you might plug into UMKC. Nurturing and maintaining new connections take work, but is well worth the effort.

Creating a sense of belonging means working on your acceptance of others. We don’t all have to agree, yet we can try to understand the perspectives of others. This step requires an open mind so that you can explore other perspectives that may not be your own. Accepting others means that you avoid attacking and blaming others because they think differently from you. Lastly, it is essential to not focus only on the differences of others. Instead, look for similarities’ in others who may be different, but with whom you have things in common.

If we’ve been at an organization for a long time, we sometimes underestimate the importance of connecting with new people. Remember what it was like for you to be new, and offer a warm welcome. Get involved in new ways that will energize you and bring energy to others.

So let us all focus on belonging this year, and the way it strengthens ourselves, our groups and our daily experience.