The Meaning of Belonging

A march from Duke Library to Daniel Chapel, honoring Furman’s first African American student, Joseph Vaughn ’68. The now annual Joseph Vaughn Day on Jan. 29, 2020, drew together Vaughn’s family members and the Furman community.

How do the liberal arts and sciences help us navigate a global pandemic?

A new interconnectedness is forming between neighbors, coworkers, friends and strangers, as instances of sacrifice and ingenuity unfold all around us. In fundamental ways, this extraordinary moment requires us to live the ideals of the liberal arts and sciences – as a matter of societal functioning, if not survival.

Across millennia, the liberal arts and sciences have been committed to producing an educated citizenry – one that nurtured critical thought, the ability to bridge our differences through meaningful dialogue, and the creation of civically engaged, responsible citizens. What mission could be more crucial at this moment?

The artifacts of a civic culture are central to our resilience today. That culture requires us to break from the past by embracing historically underrepresented groups. A diverse campus community that reflects our entire society is not only necessary to achieve academic excellence – it is the path to a diverse, engaged citizenry capable of leading the way through this pandemic and preparing to overcome the challenges that come next.

“I think in my entire educational experience I had maybe three professors that looked like me, kindergarten through my Ph.D. program. It’s a totally different experience. … There’s something empowering to have someone that looks like you teaching you.”


Professor of French and one of Furman’s first African American faculty members.

A culture of belonging

A sense of belonging frees our students to develop authentically. It frees them to take risks and make mistakes, to course correct and to lean on a community of mentors as they make their way along their personalized pathway. Each incoming class finds faculty who not only reflect academic preeminence but stand before them as vibrant proof that the transition to college can unfurl into a life of impact.

This support, mentoring and modeling are fundamental to a Furman education.

Since launching The Furman Advantage in 2016, Furman has adapted its critical analysis of the student experience to better deliver on its promise, landing Furman at the forefront of universities focusing on student belonging. Our strategic vision aligns community engagement with a knowledge of privilege. This allows our students to build coalitions of citizens who seek to advance equitable social change across race, socioeconomics, political affiliation, religion, ability, sexuality, regionalism, gender identity and more.

The Center for Inclusive Communities supports the immediate and long-term success of Furman’s historically underrepresented students. Using current research on belonging, well-being and career engagement helps to ensure that Furman graduates appreciate difference and are prepared to make a lasting impact.

To achieve this …

  • In the spring, our Student Office for Accessibility Resources, dedicated to providing an accessible, inclusive and sustainable learning environment for students with disabilities, leveraged its creativity and technology in the shift to remote learning for students who require accommodations.
  • We launched the Out at Furman website, which features LGBT+ faculty and staff to build a supportive community that celebrates the diversity of sexuality and gender expression found throughout campus.
  • We developed the Interfaith Scholars program, providing students with both intensive experiential learning and a role in developing campus-based programs to foster interfaith conversations. A grant from Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based nonprofit that works to make interfaith cooperation a social norm, supported the program.
  • To support students after campus closed in the spring, the Office of Student Life launched a new webpage where students can access virtual counseling and connect with a host of health and wellness resources, along with ever-growing ways to stay socially connected.
  • This year, Furman joined 30 other institutions in the inaugural cohort of First Scholars Network. It will allow us to align measurable goals with institutional data to identify our gaps, track progress, and create systems to help students succeed. Eight percent of the class of 2023 are first-generation students. Nationally, about 60% of colleges collect information on whether students are first-generation, only 40% use that data to develop first-generation-specific programs, and 20% share the information with faculty advisors. At Furman, we do all three, and our graduation rate is three times the national average.

Furman continued Dins Dialogues, co-curricular, peer-facilitated workshops designed to equip students with the skills to collaborate across their differences in a diverse and global world as they work to create lasting change in their communities. Workshop topics include identity and privilege, implicit bias, community engagement and active citizenship. Nearly 50 workshops were offered in the past year to student organizations, classes and the Pathways program. Dins Dialogues complement the curricular intergroup dialogue courses that last seven weeks and cover topics such as race, gender and political identity.

“We are here and we are not a ‘tribe that once was,’ and we are not a costume or mascot… . We are courageous, we are strong, and we are resilient.”


Furman’s first known Cherokee graduate, who received a softball jersey from Coach Wally King in the fall of 2019 with the number she played in at Furman.

Task Force on Slavery and Justice

This past year, hundreds of community members gathered on campus, including family members of Joseph Vaughn ’68, to mark the day – January 29 – that Furman’s first African American undergraduate student enrolled, leading to Furman’s desegregation. Creating Joseph Vaughn Day, to be an annual commemoration of Vaughn’s courage and vision, was among the recommendations of Furman’s Task Force on Slavery and Justice.

The Task Force was formed in the spring of 2017 with the support of the president and provost. That decision and the ensuing “Seeking Abraham” report brought to life Furman’s principles as an institution that embodies the ideals of liberal arts and sciences, including a high regard for human value, reflection, innovation and relentless accuracy. Students, faculty, staff and alumni from across communication studies, history, sociology and sustainability, among other departments, contributed to the report.

In 2018, we expanded the Joseph Vaughn Scholarship to a $1 million annual award and designated $3 million in endowment to ensure it is offered in perpetuity. This past year, the university renamed campus buildings to honor the contributions of African Americans and others. This included a building at the heart of campus named for the university’s first president, James C. Furman, which was renamed  Furman Hall (removing “James C.”) in honor of the students, faculty, staff and alumni within the entire Furman family who contributed to the history of the university. The Lakeside Housing Complex was renamed the Clark Murphy Housing Complex to honor the much-loved groundskeeper and handyman at the Greenville Woman’s College, which later merged with Furman. The university also placed plaques to provide broader historical context and commissioned an artist to create a sculpture of Vaughn to be placed in front of the library as a place of celebration and reflection in time to be unveiled at the second annual Joseph Vaughn Day this coming January.

Anti-racism at Furman

During the summer of 2020, universities across the country learned of social media accounts that explicitly discussed incidents of racism and exclusion that had occurred on their campuses. Anonymous users created an Instagram account titled “Black @ Furman” with the intent of bringing attention to the experiences of Black alumni and students at Furman. Many of the stories conveyed were heartbreaking accounts reflecting the pain of racist, sexist and homophobic acts experienced by our alumni and students. In response to these stories, a group of concerned alumni put forth a petition that encouraged Furman to address these issues by taking proactive steps towards positive change. President Elizabeth Davis and Chief Diversity Officer Michael Jennings wrote a response addressing each of the concerns with commitments to advancing anti-racist efforts on campus and beyond. An important part of the response was the formation of an ad-hoc committee of Black alumni, faculty, staff and students who are charged with making recommendations to the president on how to integrate anti-racism initiatives into Furman’s broader efforts to foster a more inclusive community. The committee’s report and recommendations are expected later in the fall.

Bringing the world to Furman

In 2019, Furman’s study away program reached its 50th year, a milestone that reflects its enduring role in developing students’ curiosity, self-confidence and readiness to live in a global business environment. Over the decades, more than 70 countries and 12 states have hosted Furman students, and 40% of faculty have led a study away experience.

Even as the global pandemic restricts travel, the university is pushing forward with international recruitment and elevating Furman’s reputation around the world. These students contribute to a diversity of thought and lived experiences and help to bring the world to Furman for other students. Due to the global pandemic and current political climate, we anticipate a decrease in international prospective student inquiries this year, especially from Asia. Our international recruitment efforts shifted to primarily virtual recruitment events in the spring. We will continue to participate in a variety of virtual college fairs, presentations, workshops and case studies for prospective students worldwide.

We also…

  • Expanded international recruitment efforts to new markets – Central America (Costa Rica, Honduras and El Salvador) and the eastern and southern regions of Africa – and continued to focus on recruiting efforts in Asia and Southeast
  • Increased collaboration with 18 United World Colleges around the world to expand recruitment and participated in both in-person and virtual events, as well as in individual virtual meetings with high school counselors, students and parents
  • Hosted in-person and virtual workshops and webinars through EducationUSA centers around the world and EdPrograms in Pakistan
  • Strategically partnered with a diverse group of universities to co-host virtual events and increase exposure for Furman around the globe
  • Presented at CIS forum and NAFSA to increase recognition of Furman in the international education field
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