Southern Oregon University students searching for Student Activities, SJEC, ASSOU, New Student Programs, EPIC, the Food Pantry, Stevenson Union and information on general campus involvement can now turn to a single source: the new Office of Student Belonging and Engagement, located in the former Student Activities suite (Stevenson Union 312).
Belonging and Engagement, affectionately acronymized “BE,” has united these previously separate offices, bringing a new focus on intersectionality to the pursuit of their shared goals.
This unification was paralleled by the office’s staffing model for coordinators, who have shifted from separate roles defined by different subjects of focus, to a single, shared role. The new Belonging and Engagement Coordinator position is debuting with three team members: Familiar faces Marvin Woodard and Jess Haywood are continuing the great work they’ve done in the past as coordinators for, respectively, Racial Justice and Student Organizations and Events; recent addition Sweets Underwood hit the ground running in early October and is already making wonderful waves in the SOU community.
“I am delighted to join this team and be in a position where I can build a bridge for students to feel more connected, engaged and, most importantly, like they belong,” Underwood said. “I look forward to supporting programs around community-building and creating educational opportunities outside the classroom for our students.”
Other additions to the BE team include Rachel Harris, who assists with a variety of BE projects and works closely with SOU’s student organizations, and Nathanael Worcester, who joined Kay Swader in Stevenson Union building management earlier this year. The SU is the home of student engagement on the SOU campus, so its management and operations were an obvious inclusion when Belonging and Engagement was formed.
Belonging and Engagement operates under the umbrella of SOU’s Student Life department, and comprises a variety of programs, services and spaces that support the campus community, including: student organizations and events, the Social Justice and Equity Center (SJEC), the Student Food Pantry and other basic needs resources, New Student programs, the Club Board of Advisors (CBA), Associated Students of Southern Oregon University (ASSOU), the Multicultural Commons, the Event Planning Involvement Committee (EP!C), and SU building management and custodial. BE leadership emphasizes that, while some rearranging has occurred – Sustainability operations and the Student Food Pantry, for example, have moved out of SU 310 (the new Career Connections location) and into the Belonging and Engagement Suite in SU 312 – none of the aforementioned programs and services have been lost.
The Student Food Pantry, in fact, is flourishing. Its new venue in the BE Suite is significantly larger, and a recent push to expand its network of local partners has increased the amount and variety of donations it receives. The Pantry is available to all SOU students, and this much-needed growth in supply will allow it to match the continually growing demand for its services. It is always accepting donations, and new stock arrives throughout the week, so students are encouraged to visit regularly to see what has been added to the shelves.
SOU’s Queer Student Union is being similarly reinvigorated, after an extended period of inactivity. The student body’s response to this initiative has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic: With Underwood at the helm as its staff advisor, the new QSU quickly built a significant member base, and interest in QSU programming is high.
“The growth of the Food Pantry and the return of the QSU are just two examples of the many opportunities now available to us,” said John Johnstin, Director of Belonging and Engagement, and the Stevenson Union. “Existing as separate offices limited both our reach and our efficacy. By pooling our resources and our goals, we’ll be able to support our students in new and greater ways going forward.”
The launch of HawkNEST, SOU’s new platform for “News, Engagement, Support, and Teamwork,” was an important step toward BE’s goals. Its user-friendly interface and myriad engagement features – including a point system to track involvement and the ability to communicate via a built-in chat – are making it easier than ever for students to find and build community on campus. Any student who has not yet visited the platform is encouraged to join using the Single Sign-On option on the HawkNEST homepage. After completing a short onboarding process, they can start exploring the many opportunities for engagement and connection on campus.
“Our purpose is, and has always been, to help every student find their place in our community,” Johnstin said. “We want SOU to be a home to them, and we want them to feel like they belong here. We hope that they can see their identities and interests represented on campus—but we also need to reflect the fact that they are each more than the sum of their parts. As a single, united team, we in the Office of Student Belonging and Engagement can approach our work holistically, treating those identities and interests not as discrete concerns, but as facets of our larger purpose—just as they are facets of our students’ lives.”