Belonging: Reflections from Sullivan Students

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By Favour Mamudu, Sullivan Senior

The pandemic has had many effects on students, one of them being feelings of isolation and loneliness. It is even more important now to celebrate feelings of belonging and bring them into focus. I interviewed Sullivan students and collected some of their thoughts and feelings on belonging at school and the Rogers Park community.

What is belonging and why is it so important?

Belonging is when a person feels comfortable within themselves in an environment. It is when you are able to unapologetically be yourself around the people and in an environment that makes you feel safe, understood and not judged. 

“Being a part of something and being able to express yourself freely,¨Azariah Fargas, Sullivan Sophomore, said. ¨It’s also being given the feeling of acceptance and uniqueness and most important care. Everyone’s ideas and opinions are valued and are true to you.” 

“Belonging means finding a group of individuals who celebrate with you, but also people who cry with you. It means finding a community with people who understand, or at least attempt to understand you,” Oluwadabira Alonge-Oludaye, Sullivan Senior, said.

What does belonging at Sullivan feel like?

Ian Hubbard, Sullivan Senior, in a photo with his girlfriend that makes him feel like he belongs. Photo taken and shared by Ian Hubbard.

It is essential that schools focus on a student’s success rather than just their grades. School should be a safe haven for children. People in a school should feel like family, and students should be able to rely on the school staff for assistance when needed. 

 “I think I belong at Sullivan because of the Sullivan community,” Along-Oludaye said. ¨Sullivan is a place with people from all over. Whenever I succeed at something I know there’ll be teachers and peers ready to pat me on the back and celebrate with me. Whenever something bad happens I have people at Sullivan who I can talk about it with. Like every community we have our ups and downs, but at the end of the day we’re a family.”

Because of the sense of community at Sullivan students like Along-Oludaye feel welcomed and supported in their school environment.

A school should also serve as an outsource where a person could voice out one’s opinions and feel heard and understood.  

“What makes me feel out of place is when I start to feel very alone,¨ Jazmyn Vasquez, a Sullivan Sophomore, said. ¨I’m very observant and when my friends leave to see other friends I start to distance myself. Sullivan High School is very open when it comes down to it. They accept all students, they listen to their voices, and overall just welcome everyone.”  

Diversity and inclusivity of different people with different cultural backgrounds could make people feel grounded to a place. When a person sees people from different cultures, they may feel more safe in a space because they realize they aren’t the only ones who are different. 

According to Shahad Msari, Sullivan Sophomore, she feels like she belongs in Sullivan High School.

“Sullivan is a high school full of many different people and it’s nice to see people with different cultures and speaking different languages around you. When a person feels like they belong somewhere, they don’t second-guess or doubt their presence there,” Msari said. “I feel safe being in a school with people who are always nice and teachers who are always ready to help.”

Fargas explains why she feels like she belongs at Sullivan and Rogers Park. 

“I feel like the spirit that I feel as a student of Sullivan High School and as a resident of Rogers Park it just makes you feel so accepted, loved, and included and I really like that. I haven’t felt such a feeling of community in a long time and I am glad it’s here. I feel like I belong because there are so many different people that you don’t have to worry about being judged or treated unfairly. I never really feel out of place.”

Rogers Park and Sullivan High School is home to some people because they feel welcomed into a community that doesn’t judge and discriminate. Rogers Park is a very diverse community filled with people with different cultural backgrounds and that can make a person feel accepted. Difference is welcoming and accepting but at the same time similar. Our differences are what makes us alike and draws us closer to each other.

What are some struggles students face with belonging?

For many, belonging brings them peace. Belonging is hard for a lot of people, especially when they are new to a neighborhood and when they aren’t around the people that make them feel safe and secure. 

Yousif Al Khalidi, Sullivan Sophomore said, “I do not feel comfortable in Sullivan. I do not believe it’s the school itself. It’s just that I am in a new country and a new school system. At least I know how to speak English though.” 

Al Khalidi goes on to say what makes him feel comfortable. He said, “When everyone understands one thing and I don’t, I feel like I’m out of place. What makes me feel like I belong is when I’m not forced to do something and can feel relaxed in a certain place.”

Where else do students find belonging?

Sharing similar interests with people or having something in common with others could make a person feel like they belong because that could make them feel bonded in a way.

Ronald Martinez, Sullivan Sophomore, shared, “My family makes me feel like I belong but also the people who have the same interests as me but what makes me feel out of place is when I’m somewhere without my family or friends and if they don’t have the same interests as me.” 

Tunmise Alonge, Sullivan Sophomore, said, “My family makes me feel like I belong because they have been in my life for as long as I have known, and McDonalds because of those delicious McChicken and nuggets, but also my teachers, as I honestly feel like they are my family and have pretty much helped raise me to be who I am today. I feel like I belong when I am able to laugh without worry and I feel like I have a place to go when I am lost.”

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