[STAFF EDITORIAL] Promote a culture of acceptance and belonging


Mimi Huelster

DO I BELONG? Along with the strategic action plan to improve DEIB at SPA, there has been a significant increase in community-wide surveys based around safety and belonging in the community.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging has become a critical aspect of assemblies, affinity groups, and speaker days. While this has increased awareness regarding racial diversity and provided tools to talk about race, additional steps can still be taken individually and school-wide on a daily basis to foster a stronger sense of belonging.

Peers, faculty, staff, and administration are crucial elements in creating a welcoming community. However, even with the DEIB work happening on campus, students feel an uneven sense of belonging. The reason behind this may be unique to each student, but false narratives, insensitive comments, and microaggressions frequently contribute to it.

While it is true that students of color are not the only students who may not feel a sense of belonging, this editorial will focus on how it can be a notable factor and why it is essential to create spaces and communities where everyone feels safe, loved, and appreciated.

The school drafted a vision to aspire to in 2022, a strategic action plan to improve DEIB.

Students have stepped up already in 2023 to do some important community engagement reflecting on the student experience. Student Diversity Leadership Conference attendees hosted a workshop in January that prompted self-reflection and small group sharing around identity and belonging. Last week, the Antiracism Student Interest Group (ASIG) hosted a speaker who described how to interrupt microaggressive and racist conversations. These events build awareness about belonging and are crucial to growing knowledge and understanding across the student body.

Other groups use fun to educate and invite belonging, like the Asian Student Alliance, which hosts the Lunar New Year celebration this month. Sharing food and creating posters about the Asian countries and cultures they represent drew a large turnout. The ability to informally learn about and celebrate cultures can build community in different ways than sitting and listening to speakers.

Events held by clubs and affinity groups educate students on how to use their voices and privilege to help others while educating the community about making the school a more inclusive space. These actions combat many forms of discrimination, but instances of microaggressions and exclusion remain prevalent within school walls.

It is important to understand that two things can coexist in society. From privilege and exclusion to kindness and racism, there is never just one side present in our world. The best way to approach this through the eyes of the students is to root out, as a community, which side of these coexisting standards we want to represent. Only then do these microaggressions and comments begin to dissipate.
There is a false narrative spreading that students of color who attend wealthy private schools are not entitled to experiences with racism because of the opportunities they have access to in and out of school. This erroneous belief damages individuals and negatively influences the entire community, as fewer experiences and stories are shared when those choosing to be vulnerable fear the risk is ignored by those who need to listen most.

How does the school get to the place of belonging the community aspires to?

The administration needs to commit to upholding DEIB goals. Live up to the strategic plan by listening to student experiences and assisting with fostering belonging. Upholding the mission statement of “Shaping the minds and hearts of the people who will change the world,” has to be more than aspirational. It has to be built into everything from hiring faculty to hearing concerns.

Finding your community and welcoming others into it is the greatest step an individual can take toward belonging.

When feeling lost, one of the best things a person can do is find people with similar beliefs, backgrounds, experiences, or interests. Without this backbone of support, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and outcasted. Finding your community and welcoming others into it is the greatest step an individual can take toward belonging. Whether this community is an affinity group that pertains to a specific aspect of your identity or a random club that plays a game or builds a hobby that you find intriguing, show up and actively participate.

Venture out of a comfort zone. Learn from each other’s stories and interests. Promote a culture of acceptance to ensure everyone finds the places they belong.