top of page

Westfield students need to feel they belong

Finn Wagner

Staff Writer

April 17, 2024

This will be my first, presumably of many, entries through which I attempt to define and extrapolate everyday words and their definitions to the world around us. I hope to do this by diving into the media, actions, and socio-cultural norms of society at large.

Mentorship in growth - Counselor Anuar Velazquez has answered any questions I have offered during this process, allowing me to grow as I write.

What does it mean to belong? To have a home, support, maybe? The ability for your fears to be washed away with the presence of a loved one, kinship, or faith? Each is an answer that satisfies a specific need, coming from one's own lived experience within the world (and there are infinitely many more), and each is a perfectly acceptable answer, as long as it accurately reflects your present opinion of the word, I can find no issue. But I believe it is safe of me to assume that if you asked a room of people, their answers may cover a broad range, perhaps so broad that hearing the responses without the question would send you down a long line of guesses before finally circling back to the topic at hand: Belonging. 

During Helping Hands class, Counselor Anuar Velazquez described this sentiment. He asked us to reflect upon this notion and apply it to our childhood. He then applied it throughout his life retrospectively, and attached misbehaviors to the urging, sustaining feelings of unbelonging he experienced. Then quickly described where he found his footing, his “home” per se. 

His conversation with me lingered in my mind far after (and is yet to leave), and because of it, I began to digest, rethink, and, subsequently, briefly rewire my brain into valuing the minutiae that provide me with a sustainable feeling of belonging. 

Within my reflections, I recognized the variability of “belongingness” (because as it varies widely from person to person, it may do the same intrapersonally) that I find in my life. I have since felt the waves of once-unfamiliar feelings when working in a classroom where people value my input and ask me questions. Or when 9 o'clock strikes at work and my coworkers and I begin to talk as we complete insignificant tasks. But most of all, when I am with a group of people I adore—Verbatim, Helping Hands, Saturday nights at a friend's house. 

My belonging – whenever I spend time with my friends and Family, I feel I truly belong.

Then after these realizations, I began to wonder: “What would happen if these feelings were unfulfilled?” Before I begin to answer, I am completely aware I am approaching the topic with a very significant amount of privilege (hell, the fact I can write this story for a class alone suggests as such), but I will attempt to gaze with a non-judgemental eye.

In the internet age, it is no secret that legions of lonely teens are storming to every crevice of the social media sphere to leave hate, sarcastic criticisms, or other forms of toxicity on all pages; but I would argue the doom driving these misbehaviors follows a long string of unbelonging (s.n. not an excuse for vile behavior, but the first step towards change is recognition). If we take a step away from the internet, and into a more lively space, the same problems exist. In fact, I argue they are being exacerbated by social media, as groups are forming, cliques are clicking, and bad influences are arising in the culture. 

According to a recent survey conducted by the National Gang Center, approximately 850,000 people are members, or at least affiliated, with gangs and gang culture, which is the highest since the survey was first conducted in 1996. As I discuss, I will not talk about the crimes committed, as it has been proven time and time again crime is a product of poverty, meaning those born in poor areas are predisposed towards a life involving such.

Though basic, a group that speaks the same language, wears the same clothes, and bands together no matter what would surely fuel a sense of belonging, as misguided as it may seem to outsiders. This is exactly what Tyrone White, a former member of the 65 Menlo Crips, described in his interview for the Insider YouTube channel. He proclaimed it is not solely based on the desire for money, name, and relevance; but the need for father figures, guidance, and stability. 


Westfield does not have the same socio-cultural and racial disparities which are the primary reinforcements of gang culture, but the same feelings of unbelonging and need for stability impact each student in the Westfield School Systems. During a self-conducted survey, I found that 100% percent of students I interviewed felt as though they did not belong at least twice throughout the school week, and 87% of the high school students surveyed believed they felt they did not belong within the class and club structure alone. 

As shown elsewhere, the effects of the lack of belonging epidemic are dire and vast, change is a necessity for students now and the ones to come. While change is unlikely within the school, city, and internet culture, a change from within is readily available. It begins with the recognition of self-belonging—You deserve the good coming onto you, the friends, the laughs—and transcends with the realization everyone around you does as well. 

“To Belong” is vague and, plainly, unimportant, as for each situation that arises in which you belong, ten will be discovered in which you do not. Therefore, it is vitally important to recognize the daily blessings and love towards you each day. Though we cannot fix the world, we, within WWS, can make each person feel as if they are valued and, as a consequence, they belong, one person at a time.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page