Building Belonging

A student's journey at Albion College begins the first time they step on campus - which often, is on their campus tour. The role of the admissions department includes communicating the values of Albion College to its visitors, including its commitment to antiracism, inclusion, and belonging.

May 31, 2022

Caitlin Cummings ’22 at Albion College’s commencement

By Caitlin Cummings ’22

I still remember my campus tour of Albion. I dutifully followed my tour guide, a senior studying psychology, and prayed that my parents wouldn’t ask any questions. I tried to imagine walking the campus on my own, going to class, and living in Albion, 3 1/2 hours from the house I had lived in all my life. Most importantly, I tried to imagine myself as a part of Albion’s community. I had been at the same school from K-8 and attended a small, all girls high school. Finding the right community for my next four years was one of the most intimidating parts of my college search process. As the tour progressed, I listened to my tour guide talk about the different facets of the community and tried to gather what was important to these people, in this little town I had never heard of before, which would become my home.

A student’s journey at Albion College begins the first time they step on campus – which often, is on their campus tour. On tour, a prospective student is taken through academic buildings, the athletic complex, dining halls, and residential spaces, to get to know the campus and the people that make up Albion’s community. The students, and anyone accompanying them, can ask questions about Albion’s course offerings, programs, opportunities, and campus life. For many, this is when they become acquainted with the values and culture of Albion College.

Albion College has made a commitment to becoming an anti-racist institution – an institution that actively opposes racism by advocating for changes in political, economic, and social life. The roles of the admissions department includes more than introducing visitors to the campus, it includes communicating the values of the College to its visitors, including its commitment to antiracism, inclusion, and belonging. Prospective students and their families should not only leave campus with an understanding of the opportunities that Albion offers, but with a sense that they belong within the Albion community. If the College’s goal is to center values of inclusion, those values must be clearly communicated to those who wish to join the community. 

Belonging matters in higher education. Students on a campus where they feel they belong are more likely to persist and succeed. If resources are accessible, students are more likely to ask for help improving academic performance. Likewise, if students feel a sense of community, they are more likely to want to remain a part of that community. The concept of belonging is an abstract one. On the one hand, it can mean students have the support systems they need such as affinity groups, counselors of similar racial or ethnic identity, and professors and other leaders on campus who share minoritized identities. On the other hand, belonging can also mean creating a community that values difference and holds its members accountable if harmful behavior does occur. Having these tough conversations sets a standard for the community and reinforces the value of belonging.

All programs on Albion College’s campus must directly incorporate values of diversity, equity, and inclusion into their work to strengthen campus-wide belonging as part of the Blueprint for Belonging Initiative. The admissions department plays a key role in facilitating belonging on campus. A student’s experience with admissions is often their first Albion experience. Therefore, it’s important that the intake process reflect the values of the College.

Admissions intersects with belonging in several ways.

  1. A prospective student wants to be a part of a community where they feel comfortable and can imagine themselves succeeding.
  2. Tour guides are students and they should be confident conveying the values of the campus community to future students. Tour guides should also have positive experiences of belonging on campus. After all, effective recruitment relies on building authentic, positive connections with prospective students.
  3. The admissions department is a public-facing department that communicates Albion College values to the broader community.

During the 2021-2022 academic year, I developed a training module to prepare student tour guides to communicate Albion College’s commitment to belonging, Promoting Purple and Gold on Tour: Developing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Modules for the Admissions Department. The goal of the training is to increase the confidence of campus tour guides to communicate our values to families and to navigate their questions about what it means to join the Albion family. Each module of the tour guide training program is designed to respond to a specific challenge identified in the admissions department.

Module 1 introduces the concept of inclusion, emphasizes the importance of diversity and equity on campus, and connects the training program to the overall goals of the admissions department.

Module 2 expands on the basics of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) work. Tour guides require a basic level of knowledge before they can engage in DEIB work. The module introduces core concepts and helps students get familiar with key terms.

Module 3 contains an overview of the history of the Albion community. The purpose is to increase tour guide understanding of the rich history and culture of the multi-racial community they live in so they can share that history and context with prospective families.

Module 4 emphasizes the role that tour guides play in increasing belonging on campus. Here I challenge tour guides to take an active role in making admissions more inclusive. The goal is to facilitate tough conversations and inspire a shift in values within the department. We need to live our values.

Finally, I added a module to train facilitators in the skills necessary to teach the modules to others. A train-the-trainer model is important because it makes the program sustainable and adaptable so it can be updated over time. Each module contains a slide deck and an instruction sheet for the facilitator to follow. The more experience the facilitators have running the modules, the more successful they will be. Therefore, I recommend consistent skill practice. The modules are designed to be engaging and efficient and can be taught by anyone who makes the effort to learn and practice.

Four years later, I am the one giving tours to prospective students and their families. I can tell that the students are just as nervous as I was, trying to envision what their life would be like on Albion’s campus. They may be wondering, like I was, where they will eat, sleep, and make memories. They also may be wondering if they belong at Albion and if Albion will feel like a home. By implementing this training program and equipping student tour guides to talk about inclusion and communicate its importance, we are taking steps to ensure that future visitors will understand the values of Albion College. Like me, they will be able to imagine Albion as their home.

Caitlin Cummings graduated from Albion College in May 2022 with Albion College Honors and a BA in Political Science and History with a public policy and service concentration from the Gerald R. Ford Institute for Public Service. Caitlin was a founding member of the Albion Human Rights Lab and will continue to serve the Lab as an Advisor. Caitlin will attend Indiana University’s McKinney School of Law in the Fall. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent those of Albion College.

Interested in joining the Albion College family? Learn more about applying to Albion College. Learn more about the Albion College Human Rights Lab and its projects.