The Issue of School Belonging: An Investigation into Resource Access and Classroom Environment at UT Austin




Lee, Erica

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Colleges, the University of Texas at Austin (UT) included, have seen increasing numbers of students with non-dominant identities enroll in their programs. Some students hold more than one of these identities (e.g., first-generation, LGBTQIA+), giving them unique experiences as the effects of those identities must be considered together (e.g. the experience of a Black woman is different from that of a queer Black woman). Because students with multiple non-dominant identities lack the social capital of individuals who have only one or no non-dominant identities (e.g., someone who is a White Christian English-speaking male), they have more difficult pathways to achieving a sense of belonging on university campuses. That feeling of belonging is an important factor in academic achievement and overall rates of college completion. Resources and resource access are critical to give students the support they need to feel a sense of belonging. This thesis reviews two previous studies on school belonging: GenEquity (2020) and You Belong Here (2019). I also analyze data from working groups I helped conduct as part of an Actions that Promote Community Transformation (ACT) project on pedagogical caring. In going through these three studies, I break down reasons students do or do not access resources in the UT classroom. Three of the key reasons that emerged were financial barriers (e.g., paying for healthcare, working a job), campus climate (e.g., racism, representation), and bureaucracy (e.g., policies, administration). I end the paper with a reflection on the ACT project and recommendations on how UT can help break down barriers to resource access to increase feelings of belonging. I recommend that UT consolidates resources, builds better structures to foster community, and improves pedagogical caring.



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