This week we welcome more than 10,000 new members to the MSU community, including more than 8,500 first-year students, over a thousand new transfer students, hundreds of new faculty and staff, and even a new president. They join a campus and a family, and we greet them with open arms. Welcome home.
Home and community were the subjects of this year’s One Book, One Community selection, Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. It’s a powerful book that elicits empathy for everyone involved in a process that displaces people from their houses and homes and communities. Eviction, Desmond shows us, is both caused by and the cause of poverty. It enriches a few at the expense of many, and it creates and perpetuates an American underclass. Having a home matters.
Over the course of the last year, I have learned a great deal about the relationship between community and place. Most importantly, I have learned the critical value of a sense of belonging to people’s happiness and students’ success. When someone feels like they belong, their capacity to learn, thrive, and contribute blossoms. And, as the stories In Dr. Desmond’s book demonstrate, when a person is displaced, both the community and the individual suffer a loss. I have learned that we have to cultivate a sense of belonging within our community so that each of us knows we matter and are needed, safe, and appreciated.
Every day, I feel fortunate to work in a place animated with the hope, energy, and experience of students from 141 countries and all 50 U.S. states. Our 50,000 students and 23,000 employees make MSU and healthy-sized town, complete with its own power plant, water system, and over 100 miles of sidewalks. To give our students a sense of community that begins on their first day on campus, we built the Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative. Much like urban neighborhoods, the Neighborhoods at MSU foster solidarity and localize our students’ lives. Each Neighborhood has its own places to eat as well as an Engagement Center with access to academic advisors, tutors, health practitioners and other resources to help students navigate their college careers.
In the coming year, we will launch a series of projects intended to foster our sense of community, purpose, and belonging. I hope you will join us at the Student Success Launch on September 12 in the MSU Union, where we will open with a community lunch and work session to begin these projects.