Belonging

I spoke to the students in Morning Meeting today about a book I am reading by bell hooks called belonging, a culture of place. An African American woman from Kentucky, Ms. hooks writes about the intersections of race, gender and capitalism. A former history student of mine recommended her work and I bought two of her books to read during Black History Month. I spoke to the students a little about her views on race and how she viewed racism in her home state. 

I also spoke about her interest in the concept of home and her quest to experience belonging.  Coming off of the midwinter break I have been thinking a good deal about how kids feel when they return to our campus. Some have deep roots here already and others are just finding their place and experiencing belonging. While I cannot think of any examples, I am guessing there are also students here who are struggling to experience a sense of belonging. Belonging means different things to different people, but I personally believe it involves some combination of people and place.

For hooks, walking is an important part of belonging. She writes, "I need to live where I can walk. I need to be able to walk to work, to the store, to a place where I can sit and drink tea and fellowship. Walking, I will establish my presence, as one who is claiming the earth, creating a sense of belonging, a culture of place."

I asked the students to think about walking and about how fortunate we are to live in a community where you can walk from your room to your meals to your classes to your sports to your friends. I spoke about our paths on campus and how many of them are seemingly impractical, how people often cut across the quad to get to their destination more quickly. We received a foot of snow yesterday and I asked them who would be the first one to do the calculus and determine that it was worth getting their feet wet in order to get in the sandwich wrap line sooner!

I challenged them to enjoy their impractical paths, to put away their phones while walking, and to engage with people and place as they make their journey from one point to another. We do not know the path to belonging when we are young, we simply know what if feels like when we are there. Our alumni often talk to me about how the beauty of our campus "operated" on them without them knowing it or appreciating it until they returned to campus at different stages of their lives. Maybe a focus on walking will help our students on that path in the same way it led to bell hooks "creating a sense of belonging, a culture of place."