Initiative to encourage students’ sense of belonging

Thu 06 January, 2022
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As the New Year begins, the University of Bedfordshire’s School of Applied Social Sciences (SASS) has relaunched its ‘Belong @ Beds’ initiative to help foster a sense of inclusion and belonging for students.

The project, which was trialled last summer, hopes to use ‘belonging’ as the focus of the School’s well-being framework, as considerable evidence suggests that a sense of belonging underpins a student’s academic success and is developed through interactions with peers and staff within the academic community.

The idea for Belong @ Beds was conceived by Dr Fiona Factor, School Enhancement Lead in SASS, who began thinking about how the School could use emotionally intelligent responses to welcome back students who have been studying remotely during the pandemic and how the concept of belonging is a key dynamic linked to student outcomes.

Dr Factor commented: “When students returned to campus, we recognised that there would be a range of needs and that many might not have ever met with their staff, peers or engaged in the life of the University. Knowing that ‘belonging’ to your place of learning contributes significantly to good student outcomes, I decided to embrace ‘belonging’ to welcome our students back.”

Another aim of the initiative is to help students who have dealt with challenges posed by the pandemic, including losing loved ones or struggling with studying remotely, and to discover whether the University has been able to nurture the sense of belonging during online learning.

To help promote students’ sense of belonging and inclusivity, the initiative aims to introduce wellbeing strategies, including additional social events and drop-in sessions held throughout the year to encourage positive staff, student and peer relationships.

Ruki Heritage, Director of Student Experience at the University, added: “At the University of Bedfordshire we thrive on seeing all our students get the most from their experiences throughout their journey with us, and we recognise the importance of wellbeing on academic performance, behaviour, social integration and satisfaction.

“Sadly we know that the lockdowns and disrupted opportunities during the pandemic have been having an impact on the mental health and wellbeing of some members of our community, so our student support services are here to offer advice and support to any students who may be struggling with their wellbeing.”

Initially just an SASS initiative, the Belong @ Beds project has now developed as a faculty-wide campaign within the University’s Faculty of Health & Social Sciences.

Staff and students within SASS have also collaboratively launched a number of networking groups, including the Black Student Network and the South Asian Student Network.

Dr Factor continued: “We received really positive feedback and all staff members agreed that this should be a long-term initiative that we need to continue throughout the academic year. Consequently, we have invited students to a variety of extra-curricular activities which we are evaluating to get a sense of impact.”

Belong @ Beds also looks to support staff as well as students, with a range of upcoming staff development workshops planned, including anti-racist education strategy, cultural competence and intersectionality. It’s hoped these activities will help develop staff confidence in engaging students and will enable academics to develop insight into the diversity of their student cohort.

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