Meredith’s School of Arts & Humanities is using its annual Common Experience as an opportunity to explore “Belonging” and what it means to belong at Meredith College. The Common Experience events are planned by a committee including Arts & Humanities students, faculty, and Assistant Dean of Students Tomecca Sloane.
The theme was selected in February 2020 in recognition that fostering a sense of belonging among all people, regardless of background, is an essential element of building cohesive bonds within a college, a nation, or any other type of community, according to Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities Sarah Roth.
“We recognize that students in the School of Arts & Humanities are from all types of backgrounds and have all types of interests. All of them are Meredith students and all of them enrich our A&H community,” Roth said.
The Common Experience theme included a kickoff presentation and panel discussion on Belonging at Meredith in September. This event was followed by a series of breakout discussion groups for students. For the fall semester, faculty also created units, assignments, and whole courses that allowed students in their classes to explore the theme in more depth.
The kickoff event, Belonging at Meredith: Past, Present, and Future, featured a presentation by Professor of History Dan Fountain about who has been allowed to belong within the Meredith community at various points in the college’s past.
The presentation did not shy away from discussing types of exclusion that have been found in Meredith’s history. A panel of students representing different identity groups then shared their perspectives on how they see belonging at Meredith now and ways that they would like the sense of community to improve in the future. Nearly 500 people either watched the panel presentation live or viewed the recorded event.
This presentation was followed by opportunities for students to discuss belonging at Meredith in small groups. These sessions were led by students members of the Common Experience Committee with a faculty member in a supporting role.
The first session focused on the collective experience of marginalized groups on campus, past and present, and the second session focused on moving forward and achieving greater belonging for all members of the campus community. In the second session, students met in affinity groups. These included international students, African American students, students with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ students, white students, and Latinx students.
“The goal is to actively foster discussions for students and faculty to openly express their opinions and stories on issues that have occurred and continue occurring on campus that have caused division and/or discomfort among our students,” said Bartola Garcia, ’22, a student member of the committee.
The discussion topics included what it means to belong, places where students find a sense of belonging at Meredith and where they have not, as well as a look toward the future.
Roth said the sessions were designed to give students a platform to help amplify their voices on campus, in order to create positive change in the Meredith community.
“We wanted them to see that their experiences are important and that the School of Arts & Humanities cares and wants to drive some important changes,” Roth said.
In order to facilitate change, the Common Experience Committee will share with Meredith leaders a report generated from the discussion groups.
Aminah Jenkins, ’23, a student member on the committee, said a primary goal was to listen to students in order to improve their experiences.
“Our plan is to present our findings to various groups on campus. My hope is that this information is used to create informed actionables with tangible results for students,” Jenkins said.
During the spring semester, the committee will continue to find ways to connect with students. While plans are still being finalized, the dialogue that began in the fall will continue.
“I hope that in the spring semester the Common Experience Committee continues to find ways to connect with students, to provide more platforms for students to express themselves and the changes they would like to see,” said Garcia. “I hope that fostering discussion of things that aren’t spoken of often will provide for a change in how we perceive each other and will form an environment where anyone can feel they belong.”