To Cultivate Belonging, We Must Be Intentional
By Luis Valdez (In Lak'ech - I Am You or You Are Me
Tu eres mi otro yo. You are my other me.
Si te hago daño a ti. If I do harm to you.
Me hago daño a mi mismo. I do harm to myself.
Si te amo y respeto, If I love and respect you,
Me amo y me respeto yo. I love and respect myself.


The above Mayan-inspired poem In Lak’ech speaks to the connection that exists between humans: If I do harm you, I do harm to myself; If I love and respect you, I love and respect myself. It is scientifically proven that humans are wired for connection. We need connection in order to make it through life, and it is through these connections that we create interdependent relationships that help us grow both as individuals and as a group. Yet, systems of oppression have gradually taught us to think of ourselves as individuals disconnected from one another. Historically, we have seen how colonialism, enslavement, imperialism, and segregation have perpetuated an “us vs. them” mentality in many communities. Nevertheless, humans are more connected and in need of each other than has often been recognized. A 2020 study done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that we crave interactions in the same region of our brains where we crave food. Another study from 2011 found that we experience social exclusion in the same region of our brain where we experience physical pain. Furthermore, research done at the University of British Columbia (2014) concluded that experiencing ostracism at work can lead to job dissatisfaction and health problems. Similarly, researchers at the University of Michigan in a 2005 study noted lacking a sense of belonging is a strong predictor for depression, even more so than loneliness or lack of social support.  

Belonging is what humans need. We often hear about the importance of acknowledging and celebrating diversity. This, indeed, is foundational when creating cohesiveness in groups of people who come from different backgrounds. Celebrations and acknowledgments are a great entry point to inclusion efforts because they bring people together, promote awareness, and give way to joy. Yet, celebrating our differences is not enough if the goal is to create an environment where everyone can thrive. We should always remember that the point of engaging in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) work is for every member of a community to reach their full potential and live a dignified life. Yes, let us celebrate and appreciate one another while also working towards developing spaces where policies and practices are welcoming, respectful, and supportive of the individuals in those spaces, particularly those who have been historically excluded.

At The Windward School, we were intentional in adding Belonging to our DEI journey. Using belonging as a framework invites us, as an institution, to ask the question, who in our community is not feeling welcomed, respected, or supported? We understand that cultivating a sense of belonging cannot be left to chance. It is something that needs to be done with intention, and as a School, we must continue to create the conditions for belonging. This will require that Windward moves out of its comfort zone if we want to stay true to our commitment to a world where every child with a language-based learning disability is empowered to achieve unlimited success. This includes accounting for race, socio-economic class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, and other forms of identity. As a School, we are still working on establishing this strong sense of belonging by all our members. Nevertheless, we view every step along the way as a move that gets us closer to that end goal. My invitation to you today is to reflect on your personal connections and your own sense of belonging. How would you feel, think, and act if you operated from the premise that I am you and that you are me?