Supporting Social Identity and Inclusion: Social Belonging

Supporting Social Identity and Inclusion: Social Belonging


Hi, I’m Dr. Adia Wingfield. I’m a professor
of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis. This video is about social
belonging, an important concept related to inclusion. It is part of a video
series that explores how diversity and inclusion influence student success and
provides evidence based strategies for cultivating a more inclusive academic
environment. An inclusive environment is one where students feel a sense of
identity safety or confidence that their unique social identities will be valued
and that it is safe to authentically express their ideas. In contrast, a less
inclusive environment can create a sense of identity threat among students or
concerns that they will be treated poorly or unfairly because of their
social identities. Social psychology research has demonstrated that anyone
can experience identity threat, because we all belong to social groups that are
negatively stereotyped in one area or another. Fortunately, the psychologists
who study the causes and effects of identity threat have also developed
strategies to prevent and overcome those effects. This video series will discuss
barriers to inclusion and strategies that can foster inclusion, with the
overarching goal of helping you create an environment where all students fill a
sense of identity safety. In other words, these videos will help you convey to
students that their unique perspectives, which are influenced by their membership
in a wide range of social groups, will be respected and valued, that they will be
treated equitably ,and that they will be evaluated based on their individual
contributions, rather than their group membership. This video is about social
belonging, an important component of inclusion. It is part of a series of
videos about inclusion. In addition to social belonging, this series also covers
growth mindset, identity threat, and metacognition. Have you ever had
questions or been concerned about your classes and didn’t know where to get
help? Have you felt like you were one of the few with these doubts? Has this ever
led you to feel like you didn’t belong in one of your courses or in your major?
At college? Social belonging is the perception of fitting, in feeling
accepted, and having positive relationships with other people at the
university. This includes classmates, roommates, professors, student advisors,
peer mentors, and really anyone else that has an effect on your academic
success. Social belonging is a fundamental human need when people feel
they don’t belong. It can negatively affect their academic performance,
motivation, health, and other outcomes. Think back to when you first started
college. You were in a new place, surrounded by people you didn’t know, and
you were faced with challenging coursework in a fast-paced environment.
This was not high school anymore. Many students struggle adjusting to this
change. Uncertainty about belonging can affect anyone, regardless of the social
identities they hold. As someone in a leadership role, you’ve proven that you
can make this transition successfully, and you can help other students to do
the same. Hi, I’m Hanna Jia. I’m a junior studying
biochemistry, and I’ve been a general chemistry PLTL leader for two years.
Today, I want to talk about social belonging in PLTL groups. We all talk
about how PLTL groups should be a family and how it should be a good
environment for everyone to learn. PLTL leaders can affect how inclusive the
group feels. Something I’ve had to be worried about is: During icebreakers, what
type of questions I ask students in my group. For example, asking my group where
they went on vacation for the last break might make some students who can’t
afford it to feel left out. Something that happened to me this semester was
that some students wanted food during the PLTL sessions. Not thinking, I said,
“Why don’t we have two people bring food every week for everyone else in the
group.” After that session, a student came up to me and said, “I don’t have money to
buy food.” At the time I said, “Oh, that’s OK, I’ll just bring food for you and
it’ll be my week instead of yours.” But thinking back on it, I don’t think I
would have had the food at all. I think that every time I brought food for her,
it made her feel uncomfortable. She was the only one who didn’t bring food, and I
think everyone knew that, which made her feel left out of the group. In the future,
thinking about these things beforehand might be helpful to make your group feel
as inclusive and welcoming as possible. Hi, my name is Chris Chow. I’m a junior
studying biology and mathematics, and I’ve been a calculus 3 PLTL leader for
two years. In a lot of our sessions, at least in the beginning, there are some
students in the group who are more vocal and answer the questions, while there are
other students who keep to themselves, do their work, and try to quietly finish the
PLTL session. One thing that happens if not fixed is that the vocal students
will talk more, and the quiet students will be less responsive in the group.
This can be a problem because when it happens, sometimes the students who talk
and answer questions are perceived as smarter. You can see they know the
material, and they demonstrate this through talking out loud, asking
questions, and answering questions, whereas the quieter students who don’t
really talk or ask questions might be seen as not knowing the material, because
they never really seemed to contribute or ask questions. Last semester, I had a
student who was very vocal. He tried to answer all the questions and would
always volunteer to write on the board. It got to the point where other students
would stop participating, because they knew he would yell at the answer and
dominate the discussion. One thing I did to address this was, instead of asking
questions to the group in general, I asked questions to each person
individually. A lot of the times, students don’t talk either because they don’t
feel comfortable in the group yet, or because they aren’t confident in their
answers—even if the answer is correct. By asking people individually, it gives them
a chance to take their time and show the group they know the material, instead of
competing to answer the questions. Hi, my name is Harshi Gupta. I’m a senior
chemistry major and astrophysics minor, and have been a chemistry peer mentor
for two years. Something important to me is that I really want to make my
students feel that they belong in the mentoring group and feel comfortable
about asking and answering questions. One of the things I’ve tried to do is: After
my session, I sometimes hold fun fact sessions where I tell them about
abstract concepts in modern physics, like quantum entanglement or how objects in
motion experience time more slowly, and other intriguing topics you don’t hear
about in your general physics or chemistry classes. One of my students, who
was initially very shy, started staying for these fun fact sessions, and she
started to ask questions. I was able to engage with her in a very risk-free
environment, where I don’t think anyone was going to feel judged for not
understanding quantum electrodynamics, because there’s no expectation to
understand that. After she started staying for these post fun fact sessions,
I noticed that during our actual mentoring sessions she started to ask
more questions and she would answer more often when I would ask students who
knows the answer to this question, or she would also ask for more clarification. I
have her again this semester and I no longer consider her a shy student. I feel
she’s become more comfortable working with her peers and asking questions
during sessions, and just feeling like she fits in as part of the peer
mentoring community. In any academic context, we can see
performance differences between underrepresented groups and the majority
group in STEM disciplines. Women and certain ethnic and racial groups remain
underrepresented, but differences could also emerge based on gender,
first-generation college status, socioeconomic status, disability status,
or cultural background. For example, students from underrepresented groups,
because of stereotypes and inequities in education, may feel that they don’t belong
in their field of interest or feel like outsiders compared to students in the
majority group. Discrepancies can be found between underrepresented and
majority groups on exam scores, GPA, and retention in their field of interest.
Some of these discrepancies can be explained by the identity threats faced
by members of underrepresented groups. It’s important to remember that any
group of students may doubt their belonging in a given context if they
feel their identity is not valued by helping students feel that they belong
in their courses, their majors, and in their field of interest. These
performance differences can be reduced or eliminated altogether. In the research
literature, there are many studies that reveal identity-based discrepancies and
performance for different groups of students. As an illustrative example, a
laboratory study published in Science Magazine in 2011 documented and targeted
these discrepancies, using a social belonging intervention. During the
experiment, first-year students came to a research lab in their second semester of
college. White and African-American students were randomly assigned to one
of two conditions following this general procedure. In the social belonging
condition, students read a summary of the survey conveying that many seniors at
their college initially faced difficulties belonging, but that things
got better over time. For the control condition, the summary
was unrelated to belonging and dealt with changes and social political
attitudes in college. After reading the summary, students in both conditions
wrote a reflection on their personal experiences related to their assigned
summary of the survey. Students then delivered their reflection to a video
camera and were told this would be shown to incoming students. Prior to the
intervention, white students had a higher average GPA than African American
students. By senior year, there was no difference in cumulative
GPA between the belonging group and the control group for white students.
Therefore, the intervention had no effect for the white students overall. However,
by their senior year African-American students showed a significant difference
in cumulative GPA between the belonging and the control group. The belonging
group had a higher GPA that was equal to white students’ GPA. In other words, by
conveying that adversity is common and shouldn’t be interpreted as not
belonging, African-American students were set on a trajectory for greater academic
success. Similar results were seen in the self assessments by African-American
students in the social belonging condition, in that they reported less
belonging uncertainty, increased general health, and greater happiness compared to
African Americans in the control group. These outcomes suggested that by senior
year, African Americans in the belonging condition were not different from white
students in either condition. As you’ve learned from this video, a
sense of belonging is important for students’ academic achievement, health, and
happiness in college. Here are some strategies to ensure the environment in
your group session is welcoming, inclusive, and promotes a high sense of
belonging in your students. First, remind students that concerns about belonging
and introductory courses are normal and many students struggle early on and have
doubts. This is not unique to them or groups of which they are a part. Tell
students that struggling may make them feel uncertain about belonging, but by
learning effective study strategies and getting help, they can be successful and
feel more of a sense of belonging over time. Second, learn students’ names and get to know them. A welcoming and supportive environment, where students’ unique
identities are valued, can go a long way in making students feel like they belong.
Third, do activities throughout the semester, but especially at the beginning,
to ensure the students get to know each other, like name cards, rotate small
groups and pairs, or icebreakers. Fourth, pay attention to how students interact
with one another informally before or after problem solving. Address any
concerns and seek help if necessary. For example, where do students choose to sit?
What is their body language toward the others in the group? Do they engage in
the social conversation of the group? Et cetera. Fifth, if you’re leading a group session,
structure it so no single person has the chance to dominate discussion. Use
strategies that encourage equal participation, so that everyone feels
valued and no one feels left out. Sixth, welcome and show respect for all
thoughts, questions, and answers. Encourage students to say out loud what
are their thoughts, questions, and mistakes. Making mistakes in sessions
helps students to learn more deeply about the material, and therefore students
should be encouraged to question their understanding out loud.

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