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What is the Intellectual Vibe in Your Course?

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary (n.d.), a vibe is “a person’s emotional state, or the atmosphere of a place as communicated to and felt by others.” The space between cognition and emotion is where we can positively or negatively impact the student’s experience. It is important to communicate to students that WSSU is a Ramily. However, intentional programming and policies should accompany our words. Consistent with our institutional value that “Ramily Matters,” our institution should be a place that exemplifies care, service, and inspiration. Our marketing materials, departmental websites, recruitment events, and other programmatic offerings should reflect this brand messaging. We want students to feel that our institution is a place where they are valuable members of our academic community. If colleagues do not value Ramily, how can we expect our students to embrace the same?

Higher education institutions should endeavor to foster a learning environment that promotes students’ sense of belonging. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are premier institutions that celebrate African American excellence in every aspect of life. Given the transformative power of the HBCU experience, student belonging has become a trending topic. Scholars have sought to address how belonging or the absence of belonging impacts student retention, persistence, academic performance, and other variables. Scholar and student advocate, Strayhorn (2018) describes the sense of belonging as “students’ perceived social support on campus, a feeling or sensation of connectedness, and the experience of mattering or feeling cared about, accepted, respected, valued by, and important to the campus community or others on campus such as faculty, staff, and peers (p. 4).”

As an institution committed to academic excellence, all campus stakeholders influence student belonging and the institutional climate. Since students spend significant time in the classroom exploring various topics, the vibe in our courses should include student autonomy, inclusivity, and evidence-based teaching. To assess the intellectual vibe in your courses, consider the following:

  1. VOICE. How often do I provide opportunities for students to share their voices with the class, community, and global audiences? As the gatekeeper to the emotional climate in my courses, is my class a place where student expression can flourish without fear of assimilation? To incorporate students' voices, provide opportunities for creative expression by diversifying assessments to include digital storytelling, videos, and other artistic works.
  2. INQUIRY. How comfortable do students feel asking questions during class or office hours? What opportunities do students have for civil discourse during my course? What instructional practices do I utilize for retrieval and prediction?
  3. BELONGING. What student groups does my teaching exclude? How diverse are my instructional practices to appeal to varying learning preferences? How familiar am I with the support resources and personnel on campus to address academic and non-academic student needs?
  4. EMPATHY. What do my course policies communicate to students – assumptions of criminality or a culture of trust? Does my course syllabus include cold or warm language (Lang, 2021)? What opportunities exist for students to disclose and discuss life situations that can impact their engagement in the course?

Higher education is a path to economic mobility. In college, students can explore divergent topics and develop relevant career skills. As we strive to foster students’ sense of belonging, we should also consider what occurs in the classroom. The relationship between faculty and students requires intentionality from both parties. As we convey the value of our discipline, we should remember that our words and actions matter. We have an opportunity to shape the lives of students that will impact generations. How would students describe the intellectual vibe in your course?


Lang, J. M. (2021). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Oxford University Press. (n.d.). Vibe. In New Oxford American Dictionary. Retrieved March 30, 2023, from

Strayhorn, T. L. (2018). College students’ sense of belonging: A key to educational success for all students. Routledge.

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