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A student-led open dialogue: On Belonging (co-hosted by CoP)

[Event #4] Belonging in the University

A student-led open dialogue: On Belonging (co-hosted by CoP)

How do you belong or not belong in the University?

11 Apr 2022 (Mon)


Shravan RAMASWAMY (student moderator), Deevansh GUPTA, Isabel LEE, Michelle NEOH, Alexis YU (HKUST students)

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In April 2022 we hosted an online student-led open dialogue event on Belonging in the University. The event was co-hosted with Hong Kong University of Science & Technology’s Community for Enhancing Intercultural Learning Experiences. Students Shravan Ramaswamy (moderator), Deevansh Gupta, Isabel Lee, Michelle Neoh, and Alexis Yu explored questions on ‘belonging’. Their starting point was the questions we offered them:

  • How do you belong or not belong in the University?
  • What helps or hinders your sense of belonging in the University?
  • How do your multiple belongings interact with your belonging in the University?

The students gave their perspectives on these questions, drawing on their experience as 3rd and 4th year students, and in some cases about to graduate. Other participants – students and staff – from across HKUST and beyond – added their comments and contributed to the dialogue.


Stories of belonging and non-belonging: Perspectives from our student discussion leaders


Shravan Ramaswamy

Year 4

> What does belonging mean to you? <

“In a growingly intertwined setting of mixing cultures wherever we go, sometimes it’s hard for us to tug on any of the strings around us and gravitate towards something we belong in. But I believe everyone has their place on this Earth and a group that they belong to, whether it be their sexuality, race or religion. All we have to do is explore, understand, and accept.”



Deevansh Gupta

Year 4

> Why is this exploration of belonging important to you? <

“This topic of Belonging in the University particularly resonates with me because I have had a very unique experience as an international student living in HKUST. There have been a range of positive and negative experiences and things I would like to communicate as part of this experience – and I believe being a part of such a dialogue would be an ideal platform for the same.”



Isabel Lee

Year 4

> Do you feel like you belong to HKUST? <

“After 4 years of studying in HKUST, I can feel I belong to this community, however with the pandemic and zoom classes, I have spent more than half of my university life at home, rather than at HKUST. Sometimes I wonder whether HKUST is just an education platform, like Coursera, or if it has more meaning to me.”



Michelle Neoh

Year 4

> What does it mean to belong? <

“Belonging is about feeling included despite one’s uniqueness and differences, it is often confused with conformity and being put in a group. When belonging, everyone should feel like they have a voice to contribute when they want, and that discourses are held in a respectful and reflective manner. Putting this idea in context, everyone in a community has a responsibility to make others feel like they belong to make it a culture.”

> How has your journey of belonging been? <

“My journey finding a sense of belongingness in HKUST was gradual, I have memories of intense isolation despite being surrounded by people in my first year. I had confused conformity with belongingness and I had unknowingly forced myself to become versions that do not abide with my true self. The pivotal turning point was forcing myself to achieve my aspirations regardless of fear and forming genuine connections through sharing vulnerabilities.”



Alexis Yu

Year 4

> In what ways is having a sense of belonging important to you? <

“I think the idea of ‘belonging’ is important because it gives me a sense of security when I face uncertainties in my life (e.g. hard choices, lack of confidence, dangers).”

> Could you tell us more about the interlinkage between belongingness and a sense of security? <

“I think 'belonging' provides me two important things that are both linked with 'the sense of security' here. The first one is the sense of being inside a group. Belonging is usually given by the people around me whom I think I could easily find similarities with and communicate with, so the sense of security comes from the beneficial relationship between us – which always means support, encouragement, and companionship. The second important thing is self-awareness, which I understand as a result of belonging. The groups that I feel belong to help me to grow into a more knowledgeable and mature person, and I get to know my strengths and weaknesses more along the way. Hence this self-awareness helps me to realise my abilities, which is the essential source of courage and confidence when I face uncertainties in my life.”


The HKUST Community for Enhancing Intercultural Learning Experiences is led by Melissa MEGAN (Centre for Language Education, HKUST) and Beatrice CHU (Centre for Educational Innovation, HKUST).


Event Handouts, Materials & Recommended Readings

1. Discussion summary handout

NEXUS: The Belonging Research Network. (2022, 11 April). {On Belonging:} - A Student-led Open Dialogue.


Participants discuss and voice their thoughts on Belonging in a University space

Deevansh, Michelle, Shravan, Alexis, and Isabel talk about belonging in a university space

Participants discuss and voice their thoughts on Belonging in a University space

Participants discuss and voice their thoughts on Belonging in a University space