University Development Day Offers a Sense of Belonging
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University Development Day Offers a Sense of Belonging

If you don’t feel like you belong, it’s really hard to convince students that they feel like they belong. That was the message from Terrell Strayhorn, PhD, to faculty and staff at Salus University’s Development Day Jan. 6, 2023.

Dr. Strayhorn, currently a professor of higher education in women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Illinois State University, where he also directs the university’s PhD program, was one of the featured speakers for the University Development (UD) Day. Recognized as one of the country’s top diversity scholars and the author of 12 books on the topic, Dr. Strayhorn was invited to Salus by Juliana Mosley-Williams, PhD, special assistant to the president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) to talk specifically about “belonging” and how Salus can be more intentional in creating a culture of belonging.

Strayhorn lecture pic1“I truly believe in the concept of belonging,” said Dr. Mosley-Williams. “As you all know, we have adopted cultural humility as our framework here at Salus. Our thought is if we do cultural humility well, belonging is automatically the outcome.”

Dr. Strayhorn’s goal for his presentation, he said, was for Salus faculty and staff to have a general understanding of belonging and how it connects to other concepts, like cultural humility.

“Belonging is a feeling. It would be so much better if belonging was something we could put in a needle and inject people with,” said Dr. Strayhorn. “Because then we can make sure that everyone gets the right amount of dosage of belonging. We could control how people feel this sense of belonging. We could study, ‘How long does it persist and last?' And, then provide boosters of belonging along the way.”

But Dr. Strayhorn added that belonging has nothing to do with vaccinations or medicine. One can’t force feelings of belonging on another. He urged faculty and staff — those he called senior leaders at the University — to become ambassadors for students when it comes to belonging.

With the COVID experience everyone has lived through and continues to deal with currently, Dr. Strayhorn said students have shared with him what it’s like to “live metaphorically behind a mask” when it comes to having a sense of belonging.

“I don't think belonging is only about fitting in. I think that sometimes people find a sense of belonging by either fitting in or creating, looking for spaces where they do align with other people's interest. That is one way that it happens,” said Dr. Strayhorn.

He believes all students need help, it's just a matter of what kind of help and how much help and when they need it. “And, then, in these positive messages, I think students start to feel a sense of belonging,” he said.

UD Day also included an update from Salus president Michael H. Mittelman, OD ‘80, MPH, MBA, FAAO, FACHE, who provided an overall update on various administrative functions of the University.  In addition, the University is continuing to pursue some of the goals it set in 2022, Dr. Mittelman said, including looking into new programs, particularly in the area of health informatics; the renovation of the first floor of the South building, which is expected to start in February 2023 and finish before the next academic year; evaluating clinical work group findings; seeking partnerships and clinical affiliations; continuing to ensure health and safety measures; and institutionalizing remote/hybrid learning here and abroad.

Among the new goals for 2023, Dr. Mittelman included: creating opportunities to pilot in areas identified by focus groups; expanding faculty and staff development in strategic areas; and professionally examining patient flow at The Eye Institute (TEI) and a potential lobby redesign.

“I just want to say thank you for everything you do,” said Dr. Mittelman, who also spoke to faculty members at the faculty social the evening before UD Day. “We’re a great University because of the faculty and staff that are here, and that’s certainly not lost on me. I don’t think it’s lost on our students and it’s not lost on the people who are looking at us from the outside. That makes us very unique.”