Creating A Sense Of Belonging

Fall 2022

Valuing excellence, engagement, collaboration, social consciousness, and innovation, Rockland Community College is committed to the goal of providing high-quality, purpose-driven educational opportunities. This commitment has been the cornerstone of our Title V Conexión. As part of the College’s implementation strategy, Maggie Cohen, Coordinator of Professional Development, has provided multiple modality programming and resources to meet the diverse needs of faculty, staff, and administrators on all RCC campuses. These professional development offerings have included new teaching methodologies, delivery approaches, technology tools, Guided Pathways philosophies, and holistic student success models. Equity, inclusion, and diversity have also figured prominently, especially with the launch of the Provost Faculty Scholars Program during the Spring 2022 semester.

This program stems from a collaboration between SUNY and Lumen Circles (a division of Lumen Learning), with some added Conexión “twists”. When you first sign up to join Provost Faculty Scholars, you will enroll in an asynchronous online professional development opportunity called the Belonging and Inclusive Teaching fellowship, which requires participants to be honest with themselves, their circle members, and their fellow RCC colleagues. The bravery and courage to put oneself in a position of vulnerability as it relates to personal and professional identities, teaching practices, and DEI experiences is not only commendable, but also transformative. Our first cohort of participants also needed to be upfront about their Provost Faculty Scholars experience and whether it was meeting our needs. This was our third attempt trying to launch the program, and I was holding my breath in fear of implementation flaws, data collection issues, faculty burnout, and loss of interest. The feedback the first cohort offered not only exceeded our expectations, but also aligned with the Conexión approach to professional development at the College.           

Wherever you are on your teaching journey, I encourage you to use the resources of RCC’s Office of Professional Development and apply to participate in the Provost Faculty Scholars Program. If you find a professional development opportunity that fits what you need for your discipline, contact us and let’s see if we can make something happen within the Guided Pathways framework for you. We strive to provide purpose driven opportunities for everyone on campus.             

Over the next few weeks, we will be showcasing several Provost Faculty Scholars, reflecting on their experiences with the Belonging and Inclusive Teaching fellowship. 

Peter Marino, Lecturer of Psychology, starts our series below.                                                                                                                      

Suzanne M. Hickey, Ph.D.
(formerly) Title V Conexión Director

In Spring 2022, I had the great privilege of participating in the Provost Faculty Scholars and Lumen Circles’ Belonging and Inclusive Teaching fellowship. The Lumen Learning platform was incredibly user-friendly, packed with transformative content, and highly intentional collaborators representing a variety of academic disciplines.                              

Throughout my nine weeks of learning through connection, planning, and reflection, I was informed of numerous evidence-based practices to enhance a sense of community and inclusivity in my classrooms as well as online platforms. Countless techniques and strategies were shared and critiqued. Discussions offered much support and guidance for integrating, in real-time, meaningful activities into my teaching practices.                              

My experience as a fellow prompted me to update my teaching philosophy and become more intentional about ensuring my teaching practices aligned with adjustments to my teaching philosophy, specifically related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I can say with confidence that my students benefited from greater personalization and caring provided by the brave and safe spaces that developed. Growing consciousness of belonging has enlightened my students as well as myself greatly.                              

Specific changes I made to my lessons included:                

  • Acknowledging my own positionality and privilege, and reinforcing the sense of community building while also mitigating bias;
  • Employing Microintervention Strategies by asking for clarification to make discrepancies more visible, express disagreement to disarm, point out commonalities among other oppressed persons, and appeal to values and principles;
  • Allowing students to investigate their thoughts, feelings, and behavior, involving contextualization and the forming of thematic connections;
  • Inviting students to self-disclose their background and individual characteristics as it pertains to subject matter to the extent that they are comfortable;
  • Emphasizing diverse sources and voices from the textbook readings assigned, drawing attention to identities represented by the authors of the works cited;
  • Exercising pedagogical partnership by letting each student choose among several assignments they would like to complete for equal credit;
  • Offering the option of recording/videotaping themselves and posting their recordings/videos instead of a written comment;
  • Using the Social Identity Wheel to help students draw connections from the intersection of various identities to principles presented;
  • Forming targeted questioning aimed to help students identify their own identities in the context of presented material and discuss the influence of privilege on perception. 

My next step is to continue the work I started by further identifying ways to weave instructional practices that are supportive, challenging, varied, and organized, in addition to facilitating belonging. Given the call to action for institutions to systematically address inequities and inequalities, skills acquired from participating in the Belonging and Inclusive Teaching fellowship could also be useful when considering ways to incorporate DEI in program review, curriculum mapping, and course assessment.

My advice for other educators exploring effective teaching DEI practices is to: 

  • Start small by adapting one lesson at a time into an evidence-based framework; 
  • Utilize Open Educational Resources (OER);
  • Invite colleagues or professionals to share their expertise;
  • Evaluate the results with student feedback and deep reflection.  

Peter Marino, M.A.
Lecturer of Psychology