I Belong

Have you ever walked into a room and realized that no one looks like you? You ask yourself, What am I doing here and/or do I belong here? This narrative dominates your consciousness and sometimes never leaves even if you are seemingly accepted into the group. That feeling of being alone, or feeling like you have to bear the responsibility for representing an entire group (which hardly seems fair, since how or why should you be expected to represent people whose experiences are different from your own?) consumes you. That’s the experience that many with visual otherness like women, people of color, and people with physical disabilities feel on a daily basis. That’s the experience that some of our students of said demographics experience every day on campus and the experience that many of them will have when they leave our walls and begin their new careers. That has been my experience.

I recall years ago when I stepped into my role at the Winston Center and saw that the speakers scheduled for that semester consisted of six white middle-aged men and one Black 30-something woman. The visual of a fly floating in a pitcher of milk was the first thing that came to mind. This illustrates that even when we have the power to create a diverse and inclusive environment, our unconscious biases take hold and we create that space of otherness. I know firsthand the importance of representation; how it feels when one sees someone who looks like them represented in leadership roles or in spaces where one might not expect them to be. However, that is just part of the story. On the outside we see representation of a particular group, but what is the experience of the person if they are working in a space where they are the only one and do not feel like they belong? It is a lonely feeling. Images of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel posing with other G7 leaders come to mind. Sadly, in the next pictures we see of the G7 leaders, a woman won’t be in the mix.

How do we overcome that feeling of loneliness? What happens when we stop doubting that we belong in the space that we are in? What happens when we gain the courage to speak up and start to create changes in our spaces that will promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging? This semester, the Winston Center will launch a new series, I Belong, where leaders from various backgrounds and industries will share their stories of belonging. It is important that our students hear these stories, and we hope they will be inspired and have the courage to speak up and make changes in the spaces they are in when they begin their own careers. This semester, speakers will include Christine Montenegro McGrath, ’87, H’21, vice president and chief of global impact, sustainability, and well-being for Mondelēz International; John Barros, managing principal at Cushman & Wakefield and former chief of economic development for the City of Boston; Juan Lopera ’99, the inaugural chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer at Beth Israel Lahey Health; and Elizabeth Pierre, MSW ’24, the reigning Miss Massachusetts and the 2022 Miss America third-place winner. These roundtable student discussions will be open to all undergraduates throughout the University. 

Monetta Edwards, Director