Promoting Connection and a Sense of Belonging
The pandemic affects our students in a variety of ways. We know that many students may be feeling lonely and isolated, especially during the winter months. We’ve compiled the information below to give faculty and staff tools to normalize these experiences and to share resources you can provide to students to help them develop relationships and find a sense of belonging.
Resources included on this page:
- Tips for Talking with Students about Loneliness and Isolation
- Communication Templates to Check in with Students
- Examples of Ways Faculty and Staff Have Maintained Community in Labs and Departments
- Community Resources that Promote Connection
- Helpful Articles
Tips for Talking with Students about Loneliness and Isolation
- Ask open-ended questions. Encourage students to share by asking questions that prompt answers that aren’t simply yes or no.
- Validate and normalize feelings. Acknowledge that we all may be impacted in different ways and that’s okay.
- Share your own experience. Humanize the experience to help students understand that faculty, staff, and advisors face challenges too.
- Avoid making assumptions. Don’t assume that students feel a particular way based on your own experience or biases.
- Share resources for connection and community. There are a lot of programs and resources to help students connect with one another. Here are some community resources at MIT.
- Brainstorm solutions for creating community. Invite students to be partners in developing solutions and creative ways to maintain community in your lab and/or department.
- Refer students to support resources if needed. If you are concerned about a student, support resources are here to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out.
Communication Templates to Check in with Students
The sample templates below are provided to help you reach out to students to offer a general check-in. We encourage you to use these templates as you see fit. The bolded text suggests spaces that you may be able to insert your own content and is entirely optional.
Examples of Ways Faculty and Staff Have Maintained Community in Labs and Departments
- Dedicate time during class/meetings to check in with students and acknowledge things that are going on in the world that might be impacting their work and wellbeing.
- Use the polling feature on Zoom to gauge class morale (this is an anonymous way for students to share how they’re feeling and can help normalize feelings if you share the results).
- In place of an in-person meeting in your office, hold a meeting with a socially distanced walk outside, if you and the student are comfortable.
- People like to connect with others with shared interests, so create opportunities for students to connect with other students in the department (i.e. arrange a program for students to be matched for socially distanced activities like a coffee and walk or to work on a project together virtually. Examples of activities can include cooking or watching a show together on Zoom).
- Send care packages to students with items suggested/coordinated by faculty and staff in the department.
Do you have other ideas to develop community and address isolation? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to have your idea shared with faculty and staff colleagues here.
Community Resources that Promote Connection
- MIT Connect - an app connecting members of the MIT community for virtual, platonic, one-on-one meetups
- MIT Engage - student organization platform that allows students to join one (or more!) of MIT’s more than 500+ student organizations
- PKG Public Service Center - connect with community through service, including networking events and short-term service experiences
- Finding Belonging Through Community - an MIT Graduate Admissions blogpost written by Vadim K (Mechanical Engineering) on finding community by creating space from academic responsibilities at MIT
- Flipping Failure Social Connections - hear MIT students discuss how giving and receiving support from peers has helped them stay connected
These articles below might be helpful for faculty and staff who are talking to students about their feelings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- You're not just lazy: Why it's hard to be productive right now (CNET, September 2020)
- Happiness during coronavirus: 'Less about pleasure and more about wisdom' (CNET, November 2020)
- 5 Things We Can Each Do To Help Solve The Loneliness (Medium, November 2020)