Correlates of Belonging: What Factors Relate to Stronger Senses of Belonging?

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The CCS survey included additional indicators of “belonging,” including the extent to which individuals have a good support network, have a mentor or role model, and feel like they can openly share their point of view. Across all four populations, 80 percent or more of respondents say they have a good support network and can openly share their point of view at least to some extent. However, slight differences among populations are observable with regard to having a mentor/role model: graduate students are more likely to report having a mentor/role model to at least some extent (81%) compared to faculty, undergraduates, and staff (70%).

Across all populations, sense of belonging is correlated with the extent to which respondents have a good support network. Other factors that are positively associated include feeling connected to UMass Amherst overall (graduate students, faculty, and undergraduates), and being able to openly share one’s point of view (faculty and staff).

In turn, having a good support network is, to varying degrees across populations, positively associated with having a role model or mentor (all four populations), feeling connected to other students (undergraduates) or to one’s program/department/unit (graduate students, staff, and faculty), and feeling one can openly share one’s views (faculty and staff).

Fostering a Sense of Belonging

The findings noted above suggest the importance of fostering inclusive affinity-based relationships and groups at UMass Amherst (e.g., mentoring relationships, peer groups, departments/units/programs) that may help members of our community build supportive interpersonal networks. Supportive relationships and communities can facilitate and foster a sense of belonging and (in turn) a commitment to the institution. The graph below shows the relationship between belonging and undergraduate involvement with a range of campus-based groups and roles (e.g., Registered Student Organizations (RSOs), athletics, music groups, Residential Assistant or Peer Mentor, etc.). As illustrated, undergraduates who report involvement with one or more groups/roles are more likely to report a strong sense of belonging than are those who are not affiliated.

Suggestions for fostering a sense of belonging for UMass Amherst community members can be found in responses to the open-ended survey question that asked survey participants to share “three specific things that need to change to make UMass Amherst a more welcoming and inclusive place for all.” Among the wide array of suggestions offered are a number that relate specifically to building a sense of belonging and creating supportive networks. Below is a sampling of these comments, from students, staff, and faculty:

“...There is very little onboarding of staff in terms of understanding how my role and work fit into the big(ger) picture, introduction to the organizational culture, and or connecting with mentors.”
 (Staff Member)

“Greater effort to build community across grad students from all backgrounds within departments and across different departments”
(Graduate Student)

“More opportunities for Students that are considered "racial Minority." Show them they can be heard, there is a space for them, so they can feel connected, that there is not space for Euro-Americans only.” (Undergraduate)

“More mutual mentoring networks for members of underrepresented groups”
 (Faculty Member)

“It needs to be easier to find groups to connect to based on identity” (Undergraduate)

“Access to resources, really connect with marginalized identities and make sure they know about ALL the resources available at UMass.”
(Graduate Student)

“Offer a space for people who feel like they do not belong to come together and explore belonging and being with our differences together.” 
(Faculty Member)

“Provide structural changes to support diversity not just PR opportunities. Posters are nice, training in your language or promotion opportunities for all are nicer.”
 (Staff Member)