Renison: A road map for student belonging

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

How well do students feel like they belong at Renison? With the support of student feedback from an online survey and consultation sessions, Renison Student Experience and Housing has developed a road map report to explore the manner in which we will be supporting students from equity-deserving communities in the days, weeks, and months ahead. 

Renison University College is embarking on an exciting new era with the release of our 2024 – 2027 Strategic Plan. Most exceptional to this new direction forward is Renison’s continued commitments to equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism in what we do and who are we as a college. Continued efforts to decolonize and strengthen opportunities for Indigenization across our institution remains critical to our work.

Renison’s Student Experience and Housing team strives to amplify student voices in all it does while serving as an advocate in progressing the important work of Renison’s Strategic Plan. To ensure that student voices are present in its work involves the prioritization of students from equity-deserving communities on our campus. In Winter 2024, the Student Experience and Housing team launched a series of consultation sessions and a feedback survey to explore the gaps that equity-deserving students see from Renison as an institution. It is our hope that these consultations will help to advance priorities within Renison’s strategic plan, particularly: 

PRIORITY #1 - Nurture transformative student leaders: Renison’s learning and living environments nurture dynamic students who flourish as purposeful individuals with the capacity to make a difference in the world.

PRIORITY #2 - Embed Indigenization, decolonization, and inclusion, diversity, and equity throughout all aspects of Renison life: We value the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of our students, staff, and faculty. We will cultivate a foundation of Indigenization and inclusion, diversity, and equity that is core to our curriculum, community expectations, policies, and practices. This will help Renison move forward toward an environment in which everyone feels welcome, that they belong, and that they are able to contribute their best. We will also foster safe and inclusive living, learning, and working environments so that all students, staff, and faculty can thrive at Renison.

PRIORITY #3 - Foster a strong, inclusive, and healthy community: Our community is what makes Renison strong. We will continue to foster positive living, learning, and working environments where all members of the Renison community feel a sense of belonging and in which they are recognized, valued, and respected. We will foster a community that engages students, staff, and faculty and allows them to contribute fully and authentically to the work of Renison.

To propel these priorities forward, we recognize, honour, and value the importance of the student voice. Renison: A Road Map for Student Belonging serves as a road map for how Student Experience and Housing plans to take action based on the valuable student feedback.

The consultation process

The tremendous value of student voice was exemplified thanks to the Racialized Students of Renison (RSOR) collective who mobilized and delivered an impactful student panel discussion event in March 2023. The voices identified many gaps within the Renison community, including the desire for more inclusion-focused community space. Following this, a consultative process was identified as a critical first step to learn from more equity-deserving students.

To this end, the Student Experience and Housing department identified three key areas as information gaps that required consultation from Renison students to understand more deeply:

STUDENT BELONGING: how a student feels they belong at Renison in terms of its physical environment, including safety.

CONNECTION: opportunities for students to connect with other individuals from similar equity-deserving populations as oneself.

SUPPORT:the ability to access peer mentorship or support from Renison, including its staff and faculty, and college-wide resources.

It was decided that two processes to gather information would be utilized: a series of student consultation sessions and an online feedback survey. Key action items for the Student Experience and Housing team based on student feedback is included within this report.

Equity-deserving student communities identified

Gathering feedback from some of the largest equity-deserving student communities at Renison was necessary to ensure that decision-making was aligned with student needs. Consultation sessions dedicated to specific groups would allow an opportunity for unique voices to be adequately represented.

Numerous equity-deserving communities are present within Canadian higher education who all deserve meaningful, equitable, and appropriate support to thrive. For the purposes of this initial work and to ensure capacity within Renison to adequately support each community, five specific equity-deserving communities were identified:

  • 2SLGBTQIA+ (Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Plus) students
  • Black, Indigenous, and Racialized (BIR) students
  • Self-identified mature students
  • Neurodivergent students
  • International students and English language learners.

Key action items: what students told us

Overall, the consultation sessions and survey feedback highlight several key action items that the Student Experience and Housing team will work towards developing.

Based on the three areas of information gaps (student belonging, connection, and support), three key initiatives will be developed for the upcoming 2024/2025 academic year to address each area.

Students in a residence room

Student Belonging

Students expressed the importance of feeling safe, supported, and included in the Renison community. Recommendations for improving belonging included better roommate matching processes for residence students, creating safe and private spaces, providing education on queer issues, celebrating holidays and cultures, and ensuring representation and visibility of diverse identities.

A large component of the consultation sessions and survey explored opportunities to develop a “Link Inclusion Lounge” at Renison, utilizing existing space in Room 1401 beside the Moose Tracks Connection Desk. There were suggestions for improving this physical space at Renison to better meet the needs of equity-deserving students. Recommendations included creating comfortable and inviting lounge spaces with a variety of seating options, ensuring accessibility features, providing resources and information, and incorporating cultural representation in decor. The need to ensure that all students feel welcome and included was a priority identified for students. Suggestions included providing resources for student access, creating inclusive programming and events, and information about where to access support when discrimination or exclusion occur.

Key Action Items for Student Belonging

Improvements to the Link Student Lounge (Room 1401) are a key priority for this category. Recommendations include:

  • Comfy and moveable furniture: Sourcing quality furniture that is comfortable is imperative for the space. Couches need to be comfortable and relaxing for social, study, and relaxation purposes. Ideally, couches should be configured in small pods that allow multiple groups to access the room at the same time, while alleviating anxieties that one individual using the space may unintentionally send a message that the entire room is thereby occupied. At the same time, the couches need to be easily configurable to allow for circular group event programming in the room. Coffee tables and side tables for the space is beneficial, as well as bean bag chairs for relaxation.
  • Removing the ping pong table room: Removing the temporary wall structure that surrounds the current ping pong table in this space is recommended, along with removing the ping pong table itself. The space should consist of additional couch seating as well as a small set of tables/chairs.
  • New walls and artwork: A desire for a space that is colourful – but not obnoxiously so – is encouraged. Both the outside and inside space should reflect warmth and colour as a space that appears separate from Renison’s present institutional décor. Additionally, featuring rotating artwork from local artists – with a focus on Black, Indigenous, and racialized artists – could be welcome.
  • Whiteboards, plants, and lamps: Access to large whiteboards on one or more of the walls would be welcome for student use. Multiple times during the consultation sessions, houseplants and lamps were suggested for the space to minimize the harsh fluorescent lighting that’s common on campus and to make the place feel more inviting.
  • A kitchenette area: A small kitchenette space that would allow for a fridge and sink area would be beneficial. One of the study space areas could be re-purposed into the kitchenette. This space would be particularly useful to mature students and other non-residence students to access during the daytime to store lunches as necessary.
Ministry Centre
  • A one-on-one meeting space area: A space that could still be used for multi-purpose reasons, including one-on-one touchpoints with students or for open study purposes is an attractive use for students.
  • Access to cleaning supplies: With the room being utilized so frequently, access to sanitation wipes was identified as a priority so that students can wipe surfaces clean before or after use.
  • Colourful window decorations and window barriers: While the outdoor windows of the Link Lounge would remain in place, it is recommended that the frosting on the windows would be replaced with colourful designs that could also be used as a mechanism to communicate the lounge’s purpose as well as regular event programming. To address concerns related to student safety during events, a window curtain like what was previously used in the Registrar’s Office space should also be considered.
  • Resources & Signage: Signage that explains various resources and services available to UWaterloo students, including information about where to report incidents of discrimination and harassment, should be visible and easily accessible in the space.
  • Reading Resources: Access to books on topics related to equity-deserving communities could be made available in the space on a bookshelf for students to access and learn more. Members of the Renison community will be invited to contribute any books about equity, diversity, inclusion, and Indigenization to this collection.


Students value the sense of community at Renison and emphasized the importance of events and programs that facilitate more connections among students. Suggestions included creating inclusive events, providing opportunities for cross-cultural exchange, and fostering interactions between students and staff/faculty members.

Key Action Items for Connection

Event programming is identified a key priority for this category. The following are four key action items for reinforcing student connection at Renison:

  • Launch new BSW Practicum Student positions for Fall 2024: Student Experience and Housing will partner with the School of Social Work to recruit two (2) Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) practicum student placements. These positions, co-supervised between the Director, School of Social Work and Renison’s Student Experience and Housing team, will support in the development of the Link Student Lounge as a social inclusion space for students to connect with students from similar equity-deserving communities. The roles will also work to assess gaps for equity-deserving student groups over the 2024-2025 year and provide feedback in the expansion of additional supports, programming, resources, and student roles for the college.
  • Strengthen and expand event opportunities: Thanks to the leadership of the two BSW positions, more opportunities can exist to expand Renison’s current Mature Student Coffee Chat and Queer & Cozy events. Additionally, similar events can be developed to bring together neurodiverse students, connect Black, Indigenous & Racialized students with each other, and allow for more conversation spaces that intentionally welcome both English language learners and international students. Events/programming that also celebrate culture and provide opportunities for students to share their own cultural identities and roots will be essential for the entire student community.
Students at Renison
  • Strive toward crossover event opportunities: As a feeling of ‘community’ develops within each of the equity-deserving communities throughout the academic year, the goal would be to also develop crossover programming that allow for equity-deserving students from the various communities to come together.
  • Continue to be aware of other communities missing: The consultation phase of this project prioritized five equity-deserving communities that appeared dominant across the Renison community. However, more feedback will need to be gathered on a continuous basis to identify further equity-deserving communities missing and what opportunities may exist to provide connection accordingly.


Students praised existing supports at Renison, such as supportive staff like Renison’s Chaplain as well as programs like Queer & Cozy and the Mature Student Coffee Chat events. However, gaps were identified, including the need for more training on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for student staff, and clearer pathways to access both immigration consultants for international students and registering for AccessAbility Services at the University of Waterloo.

Key Action Items for Support

Expanded support for equity-deserving students at Renison can include:

  • Navigator for resources/issues: The implementation of the BSW practicum student positions can provide support by way of event programming, but also with being a touchpoint for equity-deserving students needing support navigating resources, services, and policies at the University of Waterloo. This role will receive dedicated training that will inform them on Waterloo and Renison student services. In addition to this, the roles will be trained on how to navigate Renison’s Harassment, Discrimination, and Abuse Prevention Policy, University of Waterloo Policy 33 – Ethical Behaviour, Policy 42 - Prevention of and Response to Sexual Violence, Policy 58 – Accessibility, and Policy 71 – Student Discipline. More specifically, the roles will understand the applicable support resources that exist at the University of Waterloo to direct students to, including the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism, AccessAbility Services, Student Success Office, WUSA’s Centre for Academic Policy Supports (CAPS), etc. The BSW practicum student positions are not designed to be direct advocates for individual student cases, but rather can navigate and empower students to access and use current mechanisms that are already available, such as Renison’s Student Advocacy and Wellness Committee and advocating supports within WUSA.
  • Posters and information access: Many helpful resources already exist that would be useful to have posted within the Link Student Lounge, including Renison’s Resources poster (PNG), Campus Wellness’ Crisis Navigation Tool poster (PDF), Campus Wellness’ Do you need help with your mental health? poster (PDF), and the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office’s Responding to a Disclosure poster (PDF). Additionally, postcards and brochures that specifically focus on equity-deserving supports and resources from various campus services should be made available in the space, including WUSA’s student-run services.
Student with an advisor
  • Collaboration and partnership with campus services: Further relationship-building between Renison’s Student Experience and Housing department and diversity, equity, and inclusion-focused services and spaces at the University of Waterloo will need to take place. These connections can work to minimize any gaps between spaces and allow for collaboration. In particular, Student Experience and Housing can collaborate with Campus Wellness’ equity-deserving counselling team to proactively ensure support is provided should any incidents of harm occur within the respective space or during programming initiatives, as well as to provide healing support during times when global events impact respective equity-deserving communities.

Overall, the feedback underscores the importance of creating an inclusive and supportive environment at Renison that celebrates diversity, fosters connection, and provides resources and support for all students.

Questions and next steps

This report outlines an ambitious action plan that Renison’s Student Experience and Housing team will be working towards, with support from units within Student Affairs and Community Education at Renison.

The community is invited to continue to share feedback and input to enhance the student experience by speaking with any member of the Student Experience and Housing team. In addition, a feedback form is available online.

Project lead

Questions and feedback are pivotal as we continue to move forward. The project lead is:

Ryan Connell
Assistant Director, Student Experience and Housing
Renison University College
Phone: 519-894-4404 ext. 28739
Office: Room 1108 (Renison Ministry Centre)