Office of Belonging opens its doors: new curriculum and a student council

BYU students signed their name stating they will strive to create a community of belonging at the Office of Belonging’s kick-off event at Brigham Square on Sept. 12. President Kevin J Worthen announced the creation of the office back in August 2021. (Andrea Zapata)

The BYU Office of Belonging is officially fully operative beginning this Fall 2022 semester with plans of implementing a new curriculum for students, faculty and staff, and involving students in a student council to improve belonging on campus.

The BYU Office of Belonging held its kick-off event on Sept. 12-13 to connect with the BYU community and help students become familiar with its mission statement.

Students who participated in the event were able to review the office’s mission statement and sign a pledge to commit to fostering an environment of belonging on campus.

The Office of Belonging was first announced by President Kevin J Worthen in August 2021 and according to the announcement, “the new office will focus on helping campus members achieve the community of belonging outlined in a newly created statement on belonging. The office will focus primarily on coordinating and enhancing belonging services and efforts on campus.”

Meet with belonging advisors

On the belonging website, students have the option to make an appointment with a belonging advisor by walking into the office, emailing or calling (801) 422-9162.

Brooke Herrmann, a student who attended the Office of Belonging’s kick-off on Sept. 12 said she would refer to the office if she were to encounter a discrimination experience.

“I don’t know what their process to take care of these situations is like or what they really do,” student Brooke Herrmann said. “I assume they want to make sure everybody belongs.”

Belonging advisor Fui Vakapuna explained the Office of Belonging strives to create a community of belonging and offer the BYU community a safe place to find common ground with any frustrations or pitfalls they face.

“We are still formulating all the office’s responsibilities to start pushing our goal of belonging for the future,” Vakapuna said. “We hope to work with all the departments, from tech to business, and hear all their initiatives when it comes to diversity and inclusion.”

Office of Belonging Vice President Carl Hernandez said they are wanting to focus on primary identities as children of God, and that that was the reason why the words race, gender and sexuality are not included in the office’s statement on belonging.

“I think there are labels in society today that create division and polarization,” Hernandez said to The Daily Universe. “In the traditional approach to diversity and inclusion work, it’s difficult to get past diversity and equity and land on inclusion or belonging because there is too much conflict and division, so we are trying to focus on belonging.”

However, he also said there will be a focus on teaching cultural understanding and enforcing acceptance and service to all the groups on campus.

“We will pay attention to secondary identities as well and see which groups might feel a little more marginalized and we will root out all sorts of prejudice,” Hernandez said.

Vakapuna said the office is still in the process of setting a protocol on how to act when students or faculty members talk to a belonging advisor about issues they are facing.

“For now, after someone emails the office to set an appointment with an advisor, we reach out to the individual and invite them to come to the office, have a phone or Zoom call and hear them out,” Vakapuna said. “We would try to understand what is happening and if the case is pretty severe, we would refer them to Title VII or Title IX, or if it’s a student to student case, we would try to reconcile between them.”

Hernandez emphasized the office is open for students now and that the goal is to make them feel welcome so they share their experiences, help them overcome the challenges they are facing and follow through to achieve reconciliation.

A student council

Vakapuna said there are future plans the office is currently working on developing, but that the BYU community will need to be patient for the new initiatives to be officially implemented.

“We are hoping to have a student council of belonging where we can hear what the students’ needs are, what may be going on and where we can help out,” Vakapuna said. “And we are hoping to work in conjunction with BYUSA and their leadership to push our new initiatives.”

University Communications spokesperson Natalie Ipson also confirmed the office will be creating belonging councils for full-time employees and students so they can discuss belonging efforts on campus. Students can express interest in participating in this council here.

“Our students will gather discussion groups that will help us to have these opportunities to dialogue with other students and gain ideas and innovate to create more ways of improving belonging here on campus,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez also said the student academic executive council will help bridge any of the achievement gaps that might exist on campus.

“Our office will participate in a wellness council that will address emotional, mental health, financial and other issues that can also play a role on students feeling a sense of lack of belonging,” Hernandez said.

A new curriculum

In light of a recent incident regarding racial slurs at the BYU volleyball game against Duke, the Black Menaces have asked the university to implement mandatory anti-racism training and sessions for staff, faculty and students.

“The Office of Belonging will be teaching campus how to use the principles found in the ‘Statement on Belonging’ to create more unified communities, not only here at BYU, but also in their families and careers,” Ipson said. “This will include developing training, curriculum and events across campus.”

Vakapuna also said the office is still planning and drafting a curriculum for the university to implement.

“If you look at the curricular issues, I think that probably is going to take us longer to develop,” Hernandez said. “We hope to have something sometime before the fall of the next academic year.”

Hernandez said the Office of Belonging will develop a curriculum that will focus on three different issues: 1) a curriculum to teach and help students understand how to better approach belonging issues, 2) a better approach to the university’s general education curriculum and 3) a curriculum to help educate staff, faculty and administrators on campus.

“In terms of educating the BYU community on belonging, diversity and inclusion, we are also definitely in the process of sorting out a curriculum, and our vice president will give us an understanding of what that will look like,” Vakapuna said. “We do have to be patient because we yet don’t know how the curriculum is going to be executed, who is going to be teaching those curriculums or what it will be about.”

Vakapuna also said the Office of Belonging really is a safe space where students can come and get help, but also collaborate with other students and bring their ideas to create belonging on campus.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email