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In this chapter, we provide an overview of the theoretical basis of, barriers to, and interventions aimed at improving belonging in schools. Our discussion focuses on interpersonal relations and individual perceptions as fundamental to the sense of belonging. We review research on belonging as a fundamental human motive as well as newer work exploring variability in the experience of belonging. We also address barriers to belonging, illustrating the relational role of peers and teachers. We conclude by highlighting three interventions shown to foster belonging in an educational context, focusing on challenging psychological perceptions of threat (Walton & Cohen, 2011), changing the climate (Walton et al., 2015), and promoting cross-group friendships (Page-Gould, Mendoza-Denton, & Tropp, 2008). Throughout the chapter, we highlight the importance of the roles of the institution, community, and individuals involved.
Jews rule the world by proxy. Or so says the former prime minister of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. In October 2003, in a speech to the 57-nation Islamic Summit in Malaysia, the then-prime minister lashed out at world Jewry. “The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million,” stated Mohamad, “but today the Jews rule this world by proxy and get others to fight and die for them.” However disturbing and offensive Dr. Mohamad's words, they were not surprising to at least one of us who had spent a summer vacationing in Malaysia. Upon his arrival into Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Inzlicht noticed thousands of copies of The protocols of the learned elders of Zion on prominent display. Seeing this “classic” book – which is a fraudulent document purporting to describe a plan to achieve Jewish global domination – shocked and affronted Inzlicht, who happens to be Jewish. When he later entered the country, Inzlicht could not help but ask how his social identity was impacting the way others saw and interacted with him: He was mistrustful of others, watchful of what he said and did, and vigilant for the way others interacted with him. Having to enter a land that so vilifies and demonizes his Jewish identity was, in short, threatening.
This chapter is concerned with the psychological effects of entering threatening environments, focusing not on the relatively clear case above, but on the more subtle and commonplace phenomenon of individuals entering environments where their cultural identity is devalued and stigmatized.
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