I Belong in the Room Because I Say I Do

Posted by Dr. Beth Reaves

I recently hosted a group of female educational leaders as part of our newly formed WSG Education Council. This group is composed of other Heads of Schools, school leaders and other successful women who serve in an advisory capacity to WSG.  

Our topic of discussion was the idea of belonging, and how we might help our students to feel a sense of belonging both at WSG and their subsequent schools, universities and workplaces. We reflected on occasions in our own lives when we’ve all felt a lack of belonging or isolation and identified what made the difference for each of us in turning the corner to belonging. Sharing those experiences was an important reminder that even the act of sharing those vulnerable moments aids in normalizing experiences that we all may have had.

From exploring what it means to fit in – changing yourself to be accepted in a group versus belonging, where you come as you are and are accepted – to mattering, we discovered a gateway to belonging. Believing that you matter is an important step to believing that you belong in a space.

At one point, someone said the following:

“I belong in the room because I say I do.”

The discussion then turned to the importance of helping our students understand the value and the strengths that they each bring forward, and nurturing them to have the confidence needed to say that to themselves. I belong here. How do I know that? Because I say I do.

When I think about my own educational and career experiences, I wonder how I might have felt more strengthened if I had adopted that position during times when I felt isolated:

  • As the only female in a meeting
  • As one of only a few Black students in a university classroom
  • As someone seeking leadership opportunities in my early career
  • As the parent of the only Black boy in a classroom
  • As someone who is a natural introvert in an extroverts space

And now here I am, all of these years later, finally embracing the idea that I know the value I bring everywhere I participate.  

My goal is for our students to learn these life lessons much earlier: to find their voice, and understand the inherent strength that they each have.  As a faith based school, we continually remind them that each of us is uniquely created by God with our own gifts and talents.  But also, I want to continue to build a school culture and classroom environment that says to these young girls, “you are special.” I want them to believe early on that whether considering a high school, a club or activity, or a future career, that with hard work, determination and perseverance, they can take themselves into any space they desire.  And their voice deserves to be in the space, because they believe it to be so.