Race, class and me: Exploring student authentic self and belonging

Kendi Guantai (Leeds University Business School), Nadine Cavigioli (Lifelong Learning Centre), Salma Al Arefi (School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering)

Project overview: This project explores how racialised and classed lived experiences of students at the University of Leeds helps or hinders authentic self-expression and sense of belonging. Challenges also exist for under-represented students taking traditionally gendered courses such as those in STEM. Students from these backgrounds can often have a sense that they do not fit into the university community because of their perceived differences.

By shedding light and gaining insights into student experiences of exclusion, as well as expectations of what inclusion and sense of belonging look like for them, this project supports the University’s vision to create “… a place where students from diverse backgrounds feel they belong, can thrive, and are valued for their unique contribution.’ (UoL 2025 Access Strategy).

The research approach: By creating psychological safe spaces for students to story-share it is hoped that they will feel more confident to be themselves and feel a greater sense of belonging within the academic community.

The project will apply research methods that centre around student voice. It will gain an insight into student’s perception of authentic self-expression and sense of belonging through an intersectional lens through:

  • Individual interviews with undergraduate, taught & research postgraduate students exploring past and present relevant life experiences.
  • Focus groups will be used to capture how students define and experience a sense of belonging and authentic self-expression.
  • As well as reflective blogs, students will co-analyse their own interview data.
  • Students will create digital artefacts throughout and produce digital stories to capture their lived experiences and clarify what institutional change is needed.

It is envisaged that data will also emerge to capture the extent to which our University culture, policies and processes are currently helping or hindering students in their authentic self-expression and sense of belonging.

To find out more about project contact Salma Al Arefi, Kendi Gauntai or Nadine Cavigioli