LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 30, 2024) — Research shows that in certain contexts, a student’s sense of belonging improves academic outcomes, increases enrollment and is protective for mental health.
Nigel Taylor, Ph.D. candidate in the College of Communication and Information at the University of Kentucky, knows this from first-hand experience.
As an out-of-state student, Taylor knows all too well the importance of community. This rang especially true as the holidays approached last November. Taylor was unable to visit his home state of Massachusetts for Thanksgiving. Knowing he could not be the only one unable to travel home for the holidays, he began inquiring to see who else was in a similar position.
“When I asked friends, mentees and fellow students on campus what they were doing for Thanksgiving, I was devastated by the number of students who did not have plans and intended to spend the day alone,” Taylor said. “Through many conversations, I realized how many people struggle emotionally and mentally on Thanksgiving Day. The thought of so many people spending the day lonely did not sit well with me, so I decided to cook for anyone in my network who did not have plans, did not want to spend the day alone or had to work but still desired a meal made with love.”
While Taylor had minimal experience in the kitchen, especially when it came to cooking a Thanksgiving feast, he was willing to do whatever it took to bring people together, so they did not have to be alone. For several days, Taylor worked tirelessly to prepare all the traditional Thanksgiving dishes — using his own time, money and resources to feed more than 50 people.
“I know what it feels like to go through life feeling like you’re not seen, heard, valued or understood,” Taylor said. “I try to do everything in my power to make sure the people I come across don’t feel the same way. Being able to build community helps in the process of feeling like you belong and have a social connection. The more people you connect with, the more you’re able to make any place feel like home.”
Often, like Taylor, students are wondering how they can create their own sense of community on campus.
There are many ways to get involved, but one option is to explore the Office for Student Success.
Created to help students lead lives of meaning and purpose, Student Success is comprised of five areas and 25 units that deliver unparalleled resources, services and programs.
“The services of Student Success play a crucial role in promoting student engagement to campus by offering support, resources and guidance. Student engagement and building a sense of community on campus contribute significantly to enriching the student experience,” said David Beach with the Office of Student Success. “Active involvement in campus activities, clubs and events fosters social connections and a supportive network. This not only enhances personal well-being but also promotes diverse perspectives and cultural understanding. Additionally, engaged students often perform better academically, develop leadership skills and are more likely to feel a sense of belonging, creating a more fulfilling overall college experience.”
Utilizing resources offered through Student Organizations and Activities, the Martin Luther King Center and his own organization he founded in 2014, Underground Perspective, Taylor was able to foster connections and build communities — enriching his own college experiences and ultimately allowing him to enrich others through gatherings like communal Thanksgiving Dinners.
Thanksgiving 2023 marked the third holiday dinner Taylor has hosted. With no plans of ending the tradition, he hopes to continue creating community for students at the university — making sure everyone has a space where they belong.
You can watch the Thanksgiving '23 recap video with personal interviews from students who attended here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTwx8qE2lec.
If you are a student who would like to find ways to get involved on campus, visit the Office of Student Organizations and Activities website. Here you can schedule an involvement advising appointment and learn about events happening on campus.
At the University of Kentucky, students are at the center of all that we do. From the moment you become a Wildcat through graduation and beyond, the Office for Student Success is committed to supporting you. Comprised of five areas and 25 units, together, they have one vision — to help students live a life of meaning. Student Success works through an equitable, holistic and inclusive lens to design and deliver unparalleled services and support a diverse community of learners in achieving their wildest ambitions. In the Office for Student Success this is what we do — this is who we are. You can explore resources available to you here. If you have additional questions, you can reach a Student Success team member by calling the helpline 859-218-YouK (9685).