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Fostering sense of belonging among Black undergraduate students

July 29, 2022

Melissa McGuire, Ph.D.

Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, University of North Texas

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

Sense of belonging is one of the leading factors in a student’s persistence. Utilizing EAB’s Five Components of Sense of Belonging infographic for my capstone project, I sought to better understand how our Black and African American undergraduate students viewed their sense of belonging at the University of North Texas (UNT) and how the Division of Student Affairs can better support fostering this belonging in the programs and services we offer.

Although there were five components, for this study I focused on just the components directly related to areas impacted by the Division of Student Affairs-seamless student experience, mental health and wellbeing, and curricular and student engagement. I chose to exclude components that related to the classroom experience because it is outside my scope of influence in my role.

The desire to pursue this study stemmed from national, state, and campus data that suggested this population often persists, graduates, and engages in programs and services at lower rates when compared to their peers of other races and ethnicities. Additionally, feedback from staff on campus suggested we often provide programs that are not of interest to our Black and African American students, which I believe stems more from a lack of knowing what to offer than a desire to provide it.

To get an initial reading of how this population viewed their involvement on campus, students were asked to gauge how involved they perceive themselves to be on campus utilizing a 10-point scale. (0, not involved at all, to 10, extremely involved). The average involvement score was 4.18, which seemed low. The top reasons why a student perceived their involvement low (score of two or lower) were time (60% of responses), not having someone to attend events or programs with (55% of responses), and alignment with interests (40% of responses).

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Once seeing this, I sought to explore a student’s agreement of areas found within the three components of belonging, such as:

  1. There are university-sponsored engagement opportunities that align with my interests
  2. I know where to seek help for mental health issues
  3. If challenges arise, I know where to go

In total, there were 13 areas we asked students to respond to, and we had a response rate of 8.5%. Looking holistically at the data, our students had the most agreement with feeling resilient, knowing resources related to their physical health, and being able to meet peers with similar interests to them.

Ongoing analysis will explore gender, classification, and mode of education differences, and focus groups will be held with Black and African American undergraduate students to provide a qualitative perspective. Ultimately, I hope my capstone project can help to equip staff in the Division of Student Affairs with information to better foster sense of belonging for these students; I also hope we will explore sense of belonging with other student groups so we can experience a similar outcome.

Student Belonging Resource Center EAB’s resource center will help higher ed leaders find best practices to foster student connections and belonging on campus.

See the fellows’ blogs from the capstone projects

Melissa McGuire and others participated in EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship in spring 2022

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