He said that there are three distinct areas and problems of “belonging”: a lack of desire to belong, the certainty of not belonging, and the state of constantly wondering if one belongs. Students from diverse backgrounds who wonder if they belong to a particular college might ask if they can trust the institution to see their potential in the same light as everyone else, as well as believe that they will not be viewed negatively based on stereotypes, he said. . If they can trust the institution, Fotuhi said, performance gaps dissipate. If they can’t, it places an undue extra load on students’ cognitive resources, forcing them, he said, to “navigate this internal narrative, this internal chatter, about fear of being perceived negatively or being a representation of a particular group which adds that extra burden to the task at hand.
As an example, he cited a scenario where a student might receive a “D” on a test, which, in turn, highlights the student’s sense of not being smart enough to belong to an institution. particular, rather than looking for resources to improve performance.
The good news, Fotuhi said, is that in these times of uncertainty, interventions can provide students with a new perspective to better understand ambiguous situations.
By impressing on the student with a low grade that challenges and difficulties are an integral part of middle school, he said, educators have the opportunity to nudge students into a more adaptive cycle, one in which, instead of disengaging, they use tutoring and other resources and, therefore, do better in the next test. This, he says, makes them believe that “there is a place for me—I am like everyone else and I can grow and develop.
Additionally, the interventions help emphasize what institutions might be unwittingly passing on to students, he said. What message, for example, might be conveyed if a female student who received negative feedback in a class now had to walk down a hallway covered in portraits of men as she made her way to a bathroom that was an afterthought because the institution was originally designed for men?
“So there’s a lot to do, both in terms of design and psychological understanding to be able to foster more adaptive narratives, but also collaboration to make them enduring and meaningful,” he said.
He warned participants to avoid a “deficit model” in which an intervention is designed as a way to help “people like you”, because youIt already puts them in this mindset that maybe the institution sees me differently, and somehow less than. He also warned attendees not to dismiss student concerns or tell them to get over something.
After Fotuhi’s presentation, participants broke into small groups to discuss curriculum tactics, messaging, campus culture, and inclusive practices. Greg Reihman, vice president for library and technology services, and Henry Odi, associate vice president for equity and community, served as moderators.
The workshop also included separate presentations by students and professors. Student panelists who shared their insights on teaching, learning and belonging included Sareena Karim ’22, bioengineering; Paola Lebron Muniz ’24, Global Studies & Modern Languages & Literatures & International Relations; Kevin Brown ’22, electrical engineering; Ugochinyere Nancy Oloyede, Ph.D. student, chemistry; and Juan Valladares, PhD student, social psychology.
The professors also shared teaching techniques that could be implemented in the spring semester of 2022. Panelists included Germàn Cardenas, assistant professor, counseling psychology, College of Education; Vassie Ware, Professor, Biological Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences; Nicholas Strandwitz, associate professor, materials science and engineering, PC Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science; and Sabrina Jedlicka, Associate Professor, Materials Science and Engineering and Associate Dean, Academic Affairs, PC Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science.