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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

When inclusion isn't enough: The new buzzword is 'belonging'

"Belonging" has joined "diversity," "equity" and "inclusion" (and sometimes "access") as the newest buzzword on college campuses, writes Adam Ellwanger, a University of Houston professor, on the Martin Center blog.

Cornell defines belonging as "the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group."

It's wholly subjective, notes Ellwanger. And it's all about "identity" and group membership. "Cornell is referring to the categories of individual identity that are presently fetishized on campus: race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, and (non-Judeo-Christian) religious faith."

"If someone doesn’t feel like he or she belongs," he writes, Cornell "assumes this is due to some failing of the institution or the people who inhabit it."

“Belonging at Cornell” started with faculty and staff, but has been expanded to include students from “diverse backgrounds and life experiences,” he writes.

People are encouraged to believe that not feeling a sense of belonging is a social injustice — one that can be resolved only through rituals of institutional penance that come in the form of more DEI training, aggressive affirmative action, and the celebration and promotion of minoritarian identities that are purportedly “otherized.”

"Belonging" sounds a lot like "inclusion," but it goes a step farther, argues Ellwanger. It makes an "immeasurable mental feeling . . . the measure of institutional justice and effectiveness."

"The best way to feel like you belong in any community is to assimilate to its values, beliefs, traditions, and expectations," he writes. But assimilation is seen as injustice. And it requires living “inauthentically.”

A new Education Trust report calls for "greater efforts on college campuses to support the belonging and success of students of color." That requires expanding -- not curtailing -- diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs.

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