6 Easy Ways You Can Promote a Culture of Care and Empathy on Campus

A culture of care is essential for making students feel safe. 

It resonates throughout the new student orientation program at my institution, Jacksonville University. Staff, faculty, and students echo the feeling that we have cultivated a culture of care on campus, which makes it feel like home. 

To me, a culture of care involves actions and behaviors within the organizational DNA. It involves everyone genuinely caring to make it a better environment. 

Here are six ways you can create a culture of care on your campus.

1. Develop a kindness campaign

When I arrived at Jacksonville University in 2017, a student who had been admitted did not make it to orientation because of a tragic road rage incident. This inspired my coworkers and I to start a campaign called #JUstBeKind wherein we urged students, faculty, and staff to be kinder to others.

We created buttons that said #JUstBeKind. Students and staff were prompted to give these pins out to someone they saw perform an act of kindness. The recipient would wear the button for a bit, then pass it on to someone else.

We also listed ways for people to be kind on bulletin boards all around campus. Tips included doing the dishes even if it is your roommate’s turn and baking cookies for a friend or a local police or fire station.

2. Create a student care team

A care team is a proactive group that supports the well-being, health, and safety of students. It can serve as an early intervention group by discussing changes in student behavior and developing ways to best support the student through those challenges.

Through serving on such a committee, I’ve been able to create a better environment for the students I work with. On my campus, caring for students is truly a collective effort. It involves many offices, from academic advising to the counseling center.

In addition to this committee, all other community members are encouraged to report and intervene in ways they feel comfortable. If they have a relationship with the student, they can initiate a conversation themselves. If they feel more comfortable with the dean’s office contacting the student, they fill out the appropriate form.

We have a CARE form and a grievance form that is provided to the campus community at the beginning of the semester. All students, staff, and faculty members are continually encouraged to say something whenever they see or hear something concerning.

3. Consider an alcohol amnesty policy

My campus and many others have created a medical alcohol amnesty policy. Here is an example from Washington College. Such programs place the health and safety of the students above all else. 

Say, as a student, a friend of mine comes home from a party and she is clearly under the influence of alcohol. I know she might need some medical attention, but I don’t want to call anyone because I fear judicial action against her. Colleges with an alcohol amnesty policy allow students to ask for assistance without being later subjected to judicial action.

It provides an atmosphere wherein students feel comfortable reaching out to the right administrative staff to ensure that their peers get the help they need.

4. Use a programmatic model on the dimensions of wellness

 My division recently adopted dimensions of wellness, requiring each department to look at its programs and services through these lenses. Our goal is to better assist students in their holistic development. 

The dimensions of wellness are: 

  • social 
  • physical
  • intellectual
  • professional emotional 
  • financial cultural 
  • environmental 
  • spiritual 

Each department isn’t expected to create initiatives for all the dimensions on their own. But this framework gives our leadership team a way to spot the gaps in what opportunities we are providing to students. Each month, I report on these dimensions to my supervisor.

5. Develop retention strategies

I know this sounds simple but I think it’s important that everyone views retention as a critical part of their role. From the cafeteria staff to the residence hall staff, retention, much like inclusion, is everyone’s job.

But, I worry that we too often think only about the highest-achieving students and the lowest-achieving students. The students in the middle risk falling through the cracks. 

Consider examining your work to see what retention strategies you can develop on your own. A few ideas to consider are programs or initiatives directly targeting specific populations: 

  • Jacksonville University hosts a SophoMORE series which includes a leadership conference and job shadowing opportunities. 
  • Several campuses, like Ohio University, host Major Fairs for students to get more information about their major or majors and careers they are interested.
  • The University of North Texas created Transfer Communities that give students an opportunity to connect with other transfers and engage with the wider university community.

6. Focus on personal relationships

When students have strong relationships with faculty and staff on campus, it changes the environment for the better. My office has become a place where students hang out regardless of whether or not they need something from me or my colleagues.

Remember: Students will feel more comfortable coming to you when they’re facing challenges if they’ve already built a relationship with you.

It’s the little things, like remembering someone’s name or asking them about an exam they were worried about previously. Everyone can focus on personal relationships; it just takes some extra moments to actively listen and be there for someone. I know we are often bogged down with the day-to-day but take the time to look away from your computer and truly listen to students.

These six ways to create a culture of care are just scratching the surface. If you are already doing each of these things, that’s wonderful! 

I would love to learn about other ways that staff and faculty are promoting cultures of care on your campuses. Such a culture makes students want to graduate from your institution and set your institution apart from others. Connect with us @HelloPresence

Patrice Abner

About the author: Patrice Abner is an advocate for quality education and passionate about inspiring a better world. She loves listening to live music, trying out new restaurants, and staying involved with the University of North Florida as a proud alumna. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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