Thinking through how colleges will create a sense of belonging this fall

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how colleges will create a sense of belonging

Thinking through how colleges will create a sense of belonging this fall

The recognizable names of student development theory, Tinto, Astin, and Maslow, amongst others, all agree that cultivating a sense of belonging is imperative to college student persistence, retention, and success. As we stare down the most unusual fall in modern higher education history, how will colleges create a sense of belonging without the rituals, gatherings, and shared experiences that typically provide the building blocks of belonging on college campuses?

As our students have been telling us for the last several months, college is about more than classes, it is about the overall experience. If we don’t invest in ensuring our students feel connected to our institution by paying attention to their overall experience, they may persist in their education, but not at your institution. Let’s keep in mind that persistence and retention are two different things. It is imperative for colleges to develop community that allows students to connect, engage, and simply belong even when they are dispersed around the world.

Colleges have a unique opportunity to empower students to create their own sense of community but must provide the resources and tools in order for them to do so. While your institution may have systems in place to run the technical side of student organizations and campus events, where are the conversations that typically happen over dining hall tables, in dorm lounges, and at campus coffee shops now supposed to occur? Institutions need to create virtual spaces to mirror the activity that normally creates a rich atmosphere for students.

I was recently on a call with one of Wisr’s orientation partners, and when discussing the success they saw in the first month of their site, someone commented that internally their Wisr site launch gave them reason to rethink some of their strongest held beliefs. When forced to make different decisions, they now meet their students where they are and are challenging some long-held beliefs about the way they have always done things. We all need to throw our assumptions out the window and recognize that things are going to be different this year, but there is progress to be made.

Now we must ask you, how will your institution create a sense of belonging among your students in a virtual/hybrid/socially distant fall term? Wisr has some ideas about how a closed social network can fill that void.


Lori Hurvitz, Ed.D. serves as the Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations at Tulane University. Her career has centered around building communities and developing engaging in-person and virtual programs for students and alumni.

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