CIC and ACUE Launch “Belong: An Inclusive Learning Community”

CIC and ACUE Launch “Belong: An Inclusive Learning Community”

For any college or university, creating a truly inclusive and equitable campus environment hinges on a core belief that institutional excellence is achieved through cross-campus collaboration. Everyone on campus has a role to play to ensure all students and colleagues feel seen, heard, and valued.

The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), an association of more than 700 nonprofit independent colleges, universities, and associations, understands that it also takes a long-term investment from leaders with a strong commitment to equity and inclusion. That is a major impetus behind the just-announced “Belong: An Inclusive Learning Community” partnership with ACUE, a new four-year initiative to equip faculty and staff with evidence-based strategies designed to deepen student belonging and make campuses more welcoming and inclusive. 


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Fostering a Culture of Belonging 

The initiative is a first-of-its-kind network across CIC member colleges and universities that is exclusively offered to CIC members. It has the potential to benefit more than 2 million students over five years.

The initiative responds to a top priority among CIC members: a desire to strengthen campus culture with inclusive practices. Members of the Belong network, which will begin in early Spring 2023, have the opportunity to credential both faculty and staff through ACUE’s new offering “Fostering a Culture of Belonging.”

In addition to nationally recognized credentials, Belong offers CIC members with unlimited access for faculty and staff to attend live webinars, open access to on-demand resources, and learning opportunities and networking for campus through an online community of practice.

Mission-Critical to Advancing Independent Higher Education

The initiative is part of CIC’s vision to seek bold action and meaningful leadership on behalf of independent higher education. Under CIC President Marjorie Hass, who was appointed in 2021, CIC has focused on programs and strategies to build institutional capacity at every level and within every sphere of independent colleges and universities.

“CIC is pleased to partner with ACUE to offer this opportunity to join a community of institutions that share a strong leadership commitment to creating inclusive and equitable learning environments,” said President Hass. “Belong provides a cost effective way for faculty, staff, and administrators to develop new skills and to work together toward shared goals.”

Matt Trainum, vice president of networks and strategic partnerships for CIC, said that establishing the Belong network is a direct response to top priorities for member institutions. “Campuses have made commitments to address inclusion, and this community is another way to deliver on those commitments, equipping faculty and staff with training, resources, and a network that improves the student experience and ultimately helps students stay,” said Trainum.

Why Student Belonging Matters 

A sense of belonging is one of the most important predictors of student retention and success, and every faculty and staff member plays a pivotal role. ACUE Partnership Director Bacari Brown said, “As the saying goes, students only care about how much you know when they know how much you care.”

The long-term partnership, Brown emphasized, is about ensuring that “no student encounters bias or is subject to microaggressions and each knows that they belong in their classrooms and campus.”

A core pillar of Belong is to equip faculty and staff with practical strategies for managing the impact of bias, microaggressions, imposter phenomenon, and stereotype threat, all which are recognized areas of focus in the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) research. Belong will bring together faculty and staff, from advisors and hiring managers to security officers, residence life directors, student affairs professionals, and admissions staff.

“Transforming a campus culture to meet the needs of its diverse community does not happen overnight––it takes a village deeply engaged and committed to making equity and inclusion everyone’s responsibility,” said Brown.

CIC & ACUE’s Collaboration and Vision for the Future

Scott Durand, ACUE’s chief executive officer, said that the partnership with CIC delivers “on exactly the rigorous, meaningful, and inclusive education one would expect from our nation’s small colleges and universities.”

CIC and ACUE have worked together for years to support small, independent colleges to advance student success and equity. In 2018, ACUE and CIC brought together more than two dozen institutions, with generous support from the Strada Education Network, to train and certify more faculty in ACUE’s Effective Teaching Practices course with a concentration in Career Guidance and Readiness

In one year alone, the 525 participating faculty reached 62,000 students; 95% of the professors found ACUE’s recommended practices relevant to their work. These teaching practices, as The Chronicle of Higher Education reported, led to increased student engagement that would prepare them for a rapidly changing work force. At Dillard University, an HBCU in New Orleans and longtime ACUE partner, Vice President for Academic Affairs Yolanda Page said “there’s a cultural change around increased awareness of preparing students for a career.”

Durand emphasized that the Belong network was another important milestone in CIC’s long-term commitment to advancing independent higher education: “When students know they belong, they stay and succeed, and ultimately go on to become the future leaders our country needs.”

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