Identity and Belonging at Sewanee: The University of the South

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de Wetter, Elizabeth
Williams, Makayla
Morgan, Katherine
Issue Date
Scholarship Sewanee 2023 , University of the South , Psychology , Community , Action Research , Belonging , Identity , Culture , Privilege , Marginalization
sing qualitative research methods including a focus group, individual interviews, and auto-ethnographic insider-interviews, this study aimed to open the conversation surrounding topics like identity, belonging, and marginalization at Sewanee: The University of the South. We hoped that by creating a safe space for sharing personal narratives, students could find connection with others both alike and different. We approached this study through an Action Research (AR) paradigm, which focuses on making positive changes in a community by recognizing and drawing upon the strengths of its members (Fine & Torre, 2021). The goal of the focus group was to encourage participants to co-create meaning about topics such as marginalization, privilege, oppression, identity, and belonging. We used Group Level Analysis (GLA) to encourage joint meaning-making. We chose to bolster our research with individual and auto-ethnographic interviews. The focus group and interviews were recorded and transcribed and GLA materials were collected for analysis. We used structural and thematic analysis to code for themes that emerged in the data. These included: identity, belonging/lack of belonging, privilege/marginalization, culture at Sewanee, and suggested action/support for the university moving forward. While traditional research sometimes leaves the participants out of the meaning-making process, AR aims to give the power back to the participants and value their lived experiences (Kagan et al., 2017). We believe that even amidst our differences, the human experience of struggle and overcoming adversity is universal. By recognizing each other’s identities with compassion and respect, we raise collective consciousness. As a result of this study, we are starting a student-led podcast to continue the conversation and encourage people to share their stories and help Sewanee to be a place where more diverse students can find belonging.