A phenomenological case study to explore how first-year undergraduate Muslim students experience a sense of belonging on a college campus in the northeastern United States.


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This study added to the knowledge of student retention on a college campus by focusing on how first-year Muslim students experience a sense of belonging. The profile of college students has changed to reflect a more diverse population and U.S. colleges and universities need to be prepared to meet the needs of students with varying identities. The majority of undergraduate students coming to college have grown up in a post 9/11 world—a world in which Muslims in America face scrutiny, exclusion, and discrimination (Elbih, 2013). The ability of an institution to meet the needs of students and create environments of inclusion affects the retention of their students. This qualitative phenomenological case study relied on interviews, photo-elicitation, and reflection statements of five participants to give voice to the lived experiences of several first-year, Muslim students at an urban university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The primary research question was: How do first-year Muslim undergraduate students at an urban university in the northeastern United States describe their sense of belonging on campus? Data were analyzed using an a priori theoretical framework influenced by Maslow (1943), Goodenow (1993), and Strayhorn (2012). A within-case analysis was conducted, providing a detailed description of each case, followed by an across-case analysis, which allowed for the identification of themes across all cases (Creswell & Poth, 2018). This study yielded three main themes connected to the belonging experiences of first-year Muslim students on a college campus. Feelings of being valued, connections with peers, and diverse interactions contributed to the belonging experiences of the participants both in and out of the classroom. Because of this study, university administrators and faculty must identify opportunities to increase faculty-student interactions, increase understanding of religious diversity, allocate resources to support Muslim identity-based student organizations and student spaces, and better understand the new student orientation programs in place on their campus.



Muslim. Belonging. First-year student. Religious diversity. Islam. College.