students playing a game

Our hope is that all individuals at the University of Waterloo will be able to experience a sense of belonging through responsive environments, caring community, and social connections.

What does this priority mean?

We understand sense of belonging to be the “degree to which an individual feels respected, valued, accepted, and needed by a defined group” (Strayhorn, 2018, 87). The Wellness Collaborative has identified two important mechanisms by which Waterloo will foster sense of belonging for students and employees: 1) responsive environments and caring community, and 2) social connections.

At Waterloo, a responsive environment and caring community is characterized by recognizing and acting on the unique needs that individuals experience within their learning, working and living environments. In order to ensure responsiveness and care to these unique needs we must critically examine the structural barriers that exist in achieving a sense of belonging.

Systemic barriers are related to an individual’s identity (e.g., ethnicity, race, Indigeneity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, language, physical and mental ability, and/or socio-economic status), which may be experienced through racism, discrimination, stereotypes, prejudice, and bias. Systemic barriers also stem from how the institution operates.

A sense of belonging can also be impacted by social connections that are fostered with others at Waterloo. For students these one-to-one connections may include their instructors, supervisors, classmates and other social peers. Similarly, for employees this will be impacted by relationships with colleagues, mentors, leaders and sense of team cohesion.

Why is this important for Waterloo?

The scale and complexity of a post-secondary institution can result in a sense of fragmentation, disconnection and isolation (Newton, Dooris, & Wills, 2016). It is widely acknowledged that employees will be more productive and impactful when they feel cared for, empowered and valued (Newton et al., 2016)—and that in a university setting, this ‘productivity’ is directly concerned with student experience, satisfaction and well-being.

The percent of Waterloo students who reported that they were satisfied with concern shown by the university has declined over time among both first year and graduating year students. A similar trend is observed for Waterloo students who reported that they feel part of a community at their university, with 69% in 2016 and 65% in 2019 (National College Health Assessment). Furthermore, in 2019, 82% of first year students feel that they belong at UWaterloo, and 75% of graduating year students (Canadian University Survey Consortium, 2019).

What does success look like?

Students and employees:

  • Feel genuinely valued, cared for and listened to
  • See themselves represented, feel apart of the Waterloo community and are given the time to be involved 
  • Experience empathetic, supportive and meaningful interactions and relationships with others
  • Are comfortable to be themselves
  • Forge supportive relationships
  • Are able to effectively contribute to their studies, work or personal goals without facing physical or systemic barriers, regardless of their background or identify; and
  • Feel a sense of responsibility towards the campus and the land on which it resides

Action group and next steps

Our actions must engage and centre individuals or our university community who experience systemic barriers including Black, Indigenous and people of colour, and individuals living with disabilities, as well as the intersectionality of these. Work is currently underway to engage our wider-university community in our priority areas to ensure that actions address the structural elements that hinder the responsiveness and care of our institution. If you’re interested in contributing to this, please connect with us through our Contact us form.