Sense of Belonging

A growing body of literature suggests the degree to which students feel a sense of connectedness to an institution influences academic achievement. Additionally, research indicates that many students of color are disconnected from the school setting because of a cultural divide between students and educators. The research highlights the differences in students’ sense of belonging by race, institution type (2-year or 4-year), and first-generation status. Underrepresented ethnic minority students and first-generation students report a lower sense of belonging than continuing-generation students or white students. We know, when underrepresented student populations do not feel a strong sense of belonging on their campus, it impacts how they integrate, perform and persist. Students at four-year institutions who felt a higher sense of belonging were more likely to utilize campus services such as student advising and financial aid services than those at two-year colleges. Related research suggests students who use these services are more likely to persist through their second and third years of college

Moreover, Gummadam, P., Pittman, L. D., & Ioffe, M. (2016) found that in the absence of a strong sense of school belonging, ethnic identity was linked with self-worth. This suggests that a strong feeling of belonging to one’s own ethnic group may protect minority students who feel disconnected from their college”. Therefore, predominantly white institutions of higher education bear a greater responsibility for ensuring the elimination of environments that perpetuate microaggressions.  When students are disconnected from both a strong sense of belonging and ethnic connections, the likelihood of attrition is avoidably increased.

As part of its efforts to improve retention rates and diversity, over the past several years, TCNJ has increased its efforts to better understand and enhance belongingness for typically marginalized students.

Now What

  1. Are there identifiable indicators that some students “belong” more than others?
  2. What are strategies that instructors might incorporate to minimize the possibilities for students to be marginalized and/or totally excluded within classroom settings?
  3. How do we effectively contribute to creating a climate that truly welcomes, respects, and engages all members of the TCNJ student population?


Gummadam, P., Pittman, L. D., & Ioffe, M. (2016). School belonging, ethnic identity, and psychological adjustment among ethnic minority college students. The Journal of Experimental Education, 84(2), 289-306.

Lee, E., LaDousa, C.edts. (2015) College Students’ Experiences of Power and Marginality: Sharing Spaces and Negotiating Differences.