At Utah’s most diverse higher education institution, students feel like they belong at Salt Lake Community College.
Research from the UCL Arena Centre for Research-based Education showed that students who feel like they have a sense of belonging at their academic institution have higher success, motivation and well-being.
SLCC serves more than 60,000 students across ten campuses, including online classes, according to the school’s website. The SLCC student body has a nonwhite population of 32%, the highest in the state.
At SLCC, the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, or ODMA, focuses on students’ sense of belonging by working with multicultural student success coordinators and hosting several events every semester. Events like the Hope Through Art showcase at SLCC’s South City Campus highlight unique perspectives from different cultures found at the college.
“Being in here is like a second home to me,” said Joseph DuShane-Navanick, a political science major. “It’s cool to celebrate different cultures, and they also celebrate my culture, which is very important.”
DuShane-Navanick, a member of the Ute Indian Tribe, together with his twin brother, Joey, revived SLCC’s American Indian Student Leadership club in part to find a sense of belonging at a college where just over half a percent of students are American Indian or Alaska native, according to the SLCC Fact Book.
“I do belong in higher education, and I am supposed to be here,” he said of his college experience, “but outside of here it doesn’t really feel that way.”
DuShane-Navanick and brother are also working with SLCC to improve awareness and the inclusiveness of the College outside of ODMA. In the fall of 2020, for example, the American Indian Student Leadership club worked with the college to install plaques recognizing the historical significance of the land it occupies at its various campuses.
“School is much more than just [learning and getting a degree],” he said. “When I found the ODMA, I found a leadership position, I could grow, I found my place [a community], and then it catapulted to change for the better.”
DuShane-Navanick said the sense of belonging found through his involvement with the office has made him more confident.
“I found a cause I can speak to,” he said. “I found a purpose, essentially. This is what the ODMA fosters — finding a purpose.”
Fartun Issaq, who works as an ODMA administrative assistant, says the office gives her a sense of belonging as well.
“The coordinators work hard to make the students feel like they belong here,” she said.
A friend introduced Issaq to the ODMA, and over the years, Issaq found herself returning to the office for the collegial environment, even after graduating.
The ODMA offers safe space for all students but focuses on those who are non-white.