UNCG celebrates iBelong Project awardees

Posted on May 18, 2021

UNC Greensboro recently celebrated projects that were awarded funding support from the campus iBelong Project, which began in Fall 2018 with the goal of assessing campus climate at UNCG. The project will use survey data to make changes on campus to be more inclusive to all students.

The project utilized the Culturally Engaging Campus Environments (CECE) survey, developed by the National Institute for Transformation and Equity. The CECE survey measures college students’ perceptions of their campus environment through questions about aspects such as cultural groups, meaningful cross-cultural engagement, the ways in which faculty and staff support students, holistic support, and experiences around diversity and inclusion. The Campus Climate Committee is co-chaired by Dr. Cathy Akens, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, and Dr. Julie Mendez Smith, Chancellor’s Fellow for Campus Climate and Professor of Psychology.

During the 2019-20 academic year, the team conducted campus listening tours to discuss the data and to hear from campus constituents. In Fall 2020, the team began to implement changes. One of the areas of concern that was identified was that students’ sense of belonging was 10% lower than overall student satisfaction.  

Considering that students, faculty, and staff would best understand barriers to belonging, the iBelong Project team issued a call for demonstration grants, intended to develop best practices which help improve a sense of belonging on campus. In the first year of this project, there were 16 funded projects providing students opportunities to engage with each other in a primarily digital environment.

“We know that a student’s sense of belonging at their institution can have significant impacts on their overall success. When we were considering the best ways to help our students build this sense of belonging, the committee felt we should ask the campus community to submit demonstration projects to expand the voices around the table. We were pleasantly surprised with the response from our campus, especially given the limitations presented by the pandemic.  The concepts presented by our students and staff were diverse, and provided exciting opportunities to deepen the community here at UNCG,” Akens said.

Mendez-Smith had this to say about the project. “I was so pleased with the response from our campus about creative and new ways to build community and a sense of belonging. To me, this initiative is symbolic of UNCG’s commitment to inclusive excellence. So many important and new connections among students, staff, and faculty were created as a result of the iBelong Project.” 

“Watching these projects come together has been an eye-opening experience. Me and my peers have seen programs catering to specific students like never before. As a student representative to the committee I’m glad I was able to help build a greater sense of belonging on campus. This project has helped me to see the importance of identifying the missing puzzle pieces, then creating them in order to build a stronger and more connected campus community,” says Milan Novakovic, a graduate student intern who helped facilitate the project.

During the 2020-21 period, $7,400 was awarded in support of projects that help build a sense of belonging among Spartans. These projects were selected for their innovative ideas to build deeper community and stronger connections between students across campus. Three project highlights follow.

Blue Table Talk: Black Womxn Students Creating Space for Black Womxn Students
Project Leads: Kynnith Francis-Vaughan (Campus Activities and Programs), Bri Welsh (Housing and Residence Life), and Megan Karbley (Dean of Students Office)

Blue Table Talk is the result of a series of conversations among three Dean of Students Office colleagues: Bri Welsh, Kynnith Francis-Vaughan, and Megan Karbley. They connected over a desire to create something different, special, and needed for our Black womxn students. After taking their idea to a focus group of current undergraduate students, those conversations turned into Blue Table Talk: Black Womxn Students Creating Space for Black Womxn Students. The team hosted 3 facilitated dialogues this spring featuring conversations around allyship, Black womxn professionals, and intersectionality. Each session had rich conversations as Black womxn’s voices were centered: the team hosted a total of 10 panelists ranging from UNCG staff, faculty, and graduate students to community leaders, attorneys, and business owners. Their goal was to re-center Black womxn’s voices at UNCG and foster a community where our students could see themselves reflected: thriving, connected, and breaking down barriers. Each session was hosted on YouTube live and had 10-20 viewers throughout the 90-minute to 2-hour sessions, with 289 total views to date. Using the YouTube platform, the team was able to reach a wider audience than anticipated including staff, students, faculty, and viewers outside the UNCG community. The Blue Table team is proud of the depth and breadth of the program, and feels that it highlights the need for these spaces.

All of the sessions are available for viewing on YouTube at  http://go.uncg.edu/btt2021.

Turning Words into Action: A Book Club and Campus project on fighting antisemitism by UNCG Hillel 
Project Leads: Shayla Glynn (First-Year Student) and Vicki Cathcart (Director of Jewish Life, UNCG Hillel)

With the rise of anti-Semitism, UNCG Hillel in partnership with the UNCG Office of Intercultural engagement (OIE), pledges to educate, raise awareness, and take action against hatred. The program began as a book club with six members of current UNCG students. This included both non-Jewish and Jewish-identifying students and the Director of Jewish Life, UNCG Hillel. The group read Bari Weiss’, “How to Fight anti-Semitism.” After reading Weiss’s book and breaking down her strategy of how to fight hatred, the club worked together to create, plan, and implement a campus project. They decided to create a campus and community pledge. Each pledge would focus on Weiss’s strategy of raising awareness, education, and taking a stand in your local community. The group broke the pledge into two categories: One to focus on for the UNCG campus specifically, and one for the broader Greensboro community. Their goal now is to have 150 faculty, staff, and students sign the pledge by the end of the summer. From there, the team would like to expand their exposure to the broader Greensboro community. Their goal is to raise Greensboro communities’ consciousness of this important issue. It is essential to have the vocabulary in order to identify anti-Semitism and stop hate when it present itself, both online and in-person. This cohort also received additional books on hate and antisemitism to explore other perspectives on the subject.

You can find the sign-up form for the Spartans Against Antisemitism pledge here.

Invisible Students: The disenfranchisement of Native American histories and perspectives in the K-12 education system with Dr. Brittany Hunt
Project Lead: Sky Kihuwa-Mani (President, Native American Student Association)

Invisible Students was dreamt up as an opportunity for educators in and around UNC Greensboro to better understand their own positionality and the ways their teaching does or does not include students. Dr. Brittany Hunt was selected for her expertise in the area of Indigenous representation in education, particularly in North Carolina. The event was highly successful: Educators from across campus and throughout the Guilford County School System attended and were struck by how little they knew. The event also received widespread acknowledgement from those in attendance who say they feel better equipped to serve their students after participating in this experience. Additionally, current UNCG students reported feeling a greater sense of connection and empathy towards their Indigenous peers.

Dr. Brittany Hunt’s podcast Red Justice Project, can be found at https://www.redjusticepodcast.com/ and you can follow Dr. Hunt on twitter @audaciouslyndn.

Other iBelong Project grant recipients include:

  • Switching Lenses: Reflecting on the environment and creating a sustainable peer-support program for belonging for students with disabilities. (Merve Ozdemir, Specialized Educational Services)
  • Engaging New International Students: Assisting new international students in building connections to UNCG through digital support. (Stephanie Guzman, International Student and Scholar Services)
  • A Stitch in Time: Individuals share historical stories through writing, fashion, photography, and other mediums. (Kiara Bethune, Apparel Product Design)
  • First-Generation College Students and Belonging: Creating social and mental health support for first-generation students. (Ariana Watkins, Psychology)
  • Lloyd International Honors College: Fostering community and increasing opportunities for students to engage with one another. (Julie Boyer, Lloyd International Honors College)
  • Come Talk with GSA: A monthly meeting for graduate students to discuss issues and provide support for student concerns. (Lexi Hoopman, Graduate Student Association)
  • CVRC Book Group: About self-care for students. (Charnessa Ridley, Campus Violence Response Center)
  • Town Hall: Key stakeholders from the University invited to listen to concerns and challenges faced by our commuter student population. (Daisy Santiago, Office of Intercultural Engagement)
  • Video Game Reading Group: Group-play of a video game themed around inequality and social justice and discussed together in a virtual space. (Vaughn Stewart, Digital ACT Studio)
  • RecWell Day: Providing students with an overview of all the programs and opportunities provided through the Department of Recreation & Wellness. (Hannah Lanzillotta, UNCG Recreation)
  • CHANCE Program: A reunion check-in event to support students who entered UNCG through the CHANCE program. (Julie Mendez Smith, Chancellor’s Fellow for Campus Climate)
  • CVPA: Students will be invited to create a participatory community exhibition of handmade symbolic totems that highlight their own unique personal interests. (Sidney Stretz, College of Visual & Performing Arts)
  • Speed-Friending: A virtual event to support residential students in building friendships during the pandemic. (Paul Lentz, Housing and Residence Life)
  • Get to Know Your Art Museum: Hosted by the Weatherspoon Art Museum. (Juliette Bianco, Weatherspoon Art Museum)

The iBelong Project has plans to implement another round of funding for Fall 2021 to expand the reach of the project. Details forthcoming. For more information on the iBelong Project, visit sa.uncg.edu/ibelong


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