What does health have to do with belonging?



On February 14th we launched SHARE, SWAP, GIFT, an education campaign to bring awareness to kidney health in honor of our co-founder Marisol Cantu & the National Organ Donor Day. In true #WAWH-like fashion, we combined art and action. We individually printed over sixty (60) 4X6 trading Valentines cards. Each card featured a unique fact about kidney health taken from the National Kidney Foundation. Some of the cards presented fun facts such as: 

“Every 30 minutes, your kidneys filter all the blood in your body, removing waste and excess fluid.

Other cards were more serious in tone:

“Black Americans are 3½ times more likely to experience kidney failure.” or 26 million American adults have kidney disease -- and most don’t know it”

We imagined members of the Teachers College, Columbia University community sharing on social media what they had learned. Swapping with others to connect & learn more about kidney health. And finally, gifting to those without cards to continue to share knowledge. Each recipient attempted to make a personal connection. We joked (kind of, not really) that because of the cost of the printed materials, we wanted to be sure each card mattered. Using the cards as an entry point, we connected personally with as many individuals on campus as possible, and called upon our community to share knowledge and to begin a conversation within their respective groups about kidney health. This approach decentralized official forums by directly placing the information into the hands of individual members. Each new encounter presented the opportunity to learn a new fact and increase our individual and group knowledge about the ways health impact community. During our campaign, several members shared personal stories with us about their own experiences with kidney and organ health. Some even signed up to be organ donors. Overall, the experience to interact with peers regarding kidney & organ health was overwhelmingly positive. 


Some questioned the relevancy of our health awareness campaign to the overall mission of #WeAreWelcomeHere. Besides the fact that our co-founder was directly impacted by kidney health, some may not have fully understood why a campaign focused on ‘belonging’ would take up a health issue. Belonging is primal, fundamental to our sense of happiness and well-being. Maslow’s pyramid ‘belonging’ forms the bridge between higher and lower order thinking on route to self-actualization. Researchers Watson & Cohen (2011) discussed primarily the impact of belonging on minority student health & academic performance particularly at PWIs. Their study demonstrated, “Over the three-year observation period, the African-American students who took part in the study had higher grade-point averages relative to multiple control groups, and the minority achievement gap overall was reduced by a dramatic 50%.” when a ‘belonging intervention” was introduced.

Other scholars have linked having a sense of belonging to overall health and mental health more specifically. Cara J Hale Ma,  James W Hannum Ph.D. & Dorothy L Espelage Ph.D. conducted research on a sample of “247 college students to determine their unique prediction of physical health perceptions and physical symptoms.” What they discovered was that “social support” or ‘belonging’ was key for physical health and/or the perception of health in college students. We know from research in disability narratives and perhaps personal experience that students with disabilities oftentimes face physical and social barriers to belonging. So-called “healthy individuals sometimes, albeit unintentionally, exclude, quarantine or otherwise isolate individuals exhibiting “poor health” either physically or socially. At the structural level, we witness these social exclusionary tactics in a myriad of forms; from limited access  to ADA compliant infrastructure to routine denials from health insurance companies.  The enforcement of draconian 19th century “ugly laws” designed to hide this nation’s poor & people with disabilities are exemplar of social exclusionary practices that in many ways continue. 

#WeAreWelcomeHere is committed to understanding how we create spaces of belonging. In order to do so, it is important to be mindful when we design spaces, to design with inclusion in mind. We must include as many voices as possible into our campus placemaking agenda. How we welcome and embrace members of our campus community is critical and contributes to the social, physical and structural health and wellbeing of our campus.

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