Why Belonging Matters

I’ve experienced a lot of transitions in my life and moved around quite a bit. Whenever I embark on a new journey there is always a bit of anxiety. The fear of being accepted, fitting in, understanding the new norms and being a part of a new community plagues my mind incessantly before my arrival. One way I try to assuage my current angst is to look for signs of familiarity and/or representation of my culture. When I make this connection, I instantaneously feel a sense of comfort. Once that initial fear transitions to confidence, I am more comfortable to take risks, form interpersonal relationships, and contribute my ideas because I feel a sense of belonging. 

We as humans have a natural desire to belong in our environment. Belonging is fundamental to our sense of happiness and well-being. Studies have shown that a sense of belonging impacts a student’s academic achievement and motivation. Students who feel they belong tend to thrive in their community. While this is important for all students, I think there is a greater concern for Black and Brown girls who don’t always feel like they have a space where they belong. This could be because in many cases, Black and Brown girls see very few members of the community who share in their cultural identity. Black and Brown girls often feel pressure to conform to the societal “norms,” which could mean either becoming invisible or just the opposite, hypervisible. Being their authentic self can come as a risk especially when they feel they will be judged or scrutinized. This pressure and overwhelming burden can cause many Black and Brown students to disengage from their current school because belonging almost seems impossible.

This is why I fervently believe in the work that I do as the Co-Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging at Laurel School. I can only imagine the fear that many girls experience when they first come to Laurel. I am sure they wonder if they will fit in or understand the norms and culture of a prestigious, single-sex, private school. This can be especially overwhelming for our Black and Brown girls who don’t see many signs of familiarity. I hate to imagine students who never transition their fear to confidence and how many voices go unheard, talents unseen or presence unexperienced because of this. It is important for me to create a space where every student feels that she can be genuine and transparent without ridicule or judgment—a space where students can show up and contribute their thoughts, ideas, and talents, and be praised for their bravery! Children who feel they belong are happier and I believe will perform better. My goal is for every girl to feel she belongs at Laurel School and to proudly say she is a Laurel Girl!