We all know the pull to belong. It’s a cornerstone of many institutional practices, from orientation to residence hall community development programs. Yet, when it comes to DEI efforts, it takes on a new level of significance. When students don’t feel like they belong and face microaggressions and other forms of racism, the extra cognitive energy they expend can get in the way of their academic and personal success, former Albion College President Mathew B. Johnson told The Chronicle of Higher Education. To alleviate some of that pressure on students, Albion made changes. For example, when officials discovered that minority students were more likely than white students to stay in classes they were failing, they decided to make the add/drop system less intimidating, thus creating equal opportunity for everyone to avoid failing grades.

The American Council on Education (ACE) describes how inclusive and collaborative approaches to leadership are necessary to achieve equitable outcomes in higher education. They term this shared equity leadership (SEL), “in which equity becomes everyone’s responsibility and multiple campus stakeholders collectively share leadership for equity,” according to their 2021 report on Shared Equity Leadership: Making Equity Everyone’s Work.

ACE’s report goes on to explain, “At the heart of shared equity leadership is the notion of personal journey toward critical consciousness, in which leaders develop or strengthen a commitment to equity through their identity, personal experiences, or relationships and learning. Leaders' personal journeys help them develop the values necessary to share leadership for equity, as well as carry out the practices that enact this type of leadership. These values and practices are embodied and enacted by leaders collectively.”

Incorporating belonging into our DEI efforts is a form of shared equity leadership, making that sense of home, place, responsibility and value come to life. “It’s this idea that the learner needs to be the center of what we do,” explained Johnson, “and if the learner doesn’t feel they belong, that’s a problem with the institution, not the learner.”

To learn more, you can find our comprehensive Special Report on Developing a Culture of Belonging: The Evolution of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Efforts within A Guide to Effective Bias Reporting, Response & Training Systems.