Have you ever felt like you don’t belong? Perhaps your friends, family, or culture made you feel like the odd one out? You try to fit in, to adapt, to force yourself into someone you are not. Overflown by frustration and sadness, you ask yourself: ‘Why can’t I be more like them?’ What you are experiencing is a lack of a fundamental human need. The need to belong, to have a group of people of whom you can proudly say ‘those are my people’. Not to worry, certainly everyone will experience a moment in life during which this deepest desire is unfulfilled. At Match, we often take the perspective of student volunteers who make other people belong in the Maastricht community. Yet, how do we ensure that the university students themselves can find a place to belong in the Maastricht community.
University can be an uncertain time for the young and restless. Many students may experience a lack of confidence in who they are or what they want to do. So, how do universities safeguard that all members experience a sense of belonging? At Maastricht University, this is the main task of the Diversity & Inclusivity office. The organization is in charge of the policies and actions for increasing the diversity and inclusivity of UM. Last week, the D&I office organized their yearly Diversity Day to share their progress and celebrate diversity at UM. This year’s theme was “You belong at UM!”. The office connected students with peers, introduced D&I organizations, and motivated students to become involved in the community. It was a time to share and celebrate that UM is a place where all students belong. Here’s what happened at #DiversityDayUM20 over a packed two hours on Zoom:
What is Belonging?
On Diversity Day 2020 at 16:00, I found my digital self between a lovely turn out of unfamiliar faces, all connected in our yearning for a more diverse and inclusive world. The event began with discussing the meaning of ‘belonging’. After a short pause, the chat box started to fill up: ‘feeling secure’, ‘being yourself’, ‘to feel like you are part of the group’. Despite the vagueness of the concept ‘belonging’, everyone seemed to interpret it similarly. Being the curious person I am, I delved further into what ‘belonging’ actually means. My question was answered by one of my favorite authors, Brené Brown. Brown, a world-renowned researcher, expressed that her participants often refer to the idea of belonging as to “be part of something–to experience real connection with others–but not at the cost of their authenticity, freedom or power.” It appears that belonging embraces both ‘being part of something’ and ‘being freely ourselves’. Quite paradoxical, yet I suppose the Diversity Day Zoom chat box would have agreed with Mrs. Brown’s definition. Belonging, thus, urges the university to foster an environment where community and authentic individuality align.
Diversity Policies at UM
Discussing Diversity with Strangers
Decolonizing the University
The Soul of UM's Diversity Community
Online Belonging During the Pandemic
During the pandemic, ‘to belong’ might be weighing heavier on the shoulders of institutions like universities. How can the UM make first-year and master students like they belong online? How can UM create a strong community online? How can UM include students or staff with less digital capabilities? These are questions that the D&I office as well as each faculty need to reflect on. From my experience, the Diversity Day event was a great example of how to create an environment of belonging online. The human connection felt real. And the message on diversity came across. It made, at least, me feel like I belonged for two hours, even if it was from the comfort of my own home.
Want to join a student organization or do you have a question about the Diversity & Inclusivity office? Please find more information here.