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Belonging | Community
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Understanding and Evaluating Belonging in Higher Education

An extensive review by psychologists Baumeister and Leary (1995) helped to give prominence to belonging as a construct and to provide evidence on its linkages to cognitive and emotional well-being. Belonging has been considered a basic human need which is dependent upon personal and frequent social connections for fulfillment. In the higher education literature, measures of belonging have significant conceptual overlap with school membership, fit, and psychological sense of community. In order to provide some unity to these related concepts and avoid confusion, we use the term belonging in this study to describe contexts ranging from the classroom to the whole university.

Scholars who have examined the need to belong in the context of schooling have assumed that academic classrooms and/or whole schools are important contexts where individuals experience interpersonal connections that inform a sense of belonging. A sense of belonging in college settings has been defined primarily as perceptions of acceptance, fit, and inclusion in the campus milieu. There has also been interest in examining the sense of belonging within academic majors and the college classroom, in part because the traditional college academic experience has been situated in the classroom and academic major. Thus, understanding the role of belonging in the academic experience at the major and classroom levels as well as at the whole university level has relevance for all STEM students. This study evaluates belonging at all three levels using the following scales (and corresponding items).

Belonging (at the class level; reliability 0.88)
  • I feel that I am supported in this class.
  • I feel that I am a part of this class.
  • I feel that I am accepted in this class.
  • I feel comfortable in this class.

Belonging (at the major level; reliability 0.85)
  • I feel that I am a part of this major.
  • I feel that I am supported in this major.
  • I feel comfortable in this major.
  • I feel that I am accepted in this major.

Belonging (at the university level 1; reliability 0.87)
  • I really enjoy going to school here.
  • I feel like I really belong at this school.
  • I wish I had gone to another school instead of this one.
  • I wish I were at a different school.

Belonging (at the university level 2; reliability 0.80)
  • People at this school are friendly to me.
  • I feel that there is a real sense of community at this school.
  • I feel like there is a strong feeling of togetherness on campus.
Works Cited
Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological bulletin, 117(3), 497-529.