In student affairs, daily work is often split up between working closely with student leaders – advising and supervising – while the rest is focused on administrative tasks and working with students who find it challenging to navigate the various pieces of the college experience.
Developing the ‘whole student’ is imperative in our work; striving to support each student wherever they are at in their growth as a student. Although student success takes a different stance at each institution, we’ve noticed a common theme at institutions: overlooking who is included in campus conversations about students of concern without cluttering the discussion or spreading resources too thin.
We’re encouraging stakeholders in student affairs to critically reflect on how their campus can re-evaluate or create a plan to include new voices to best support students who exhibit behaviors that are concerning or are at-risk for leaving their institution.
Inviting New Voices to the Conversation
‘Campus Care teams’ or other collaborative campus committees designed to identify students of concern often consult a rote number of campus partners to identify issues at hand: residence life (if the student is residential), professors, the Dean of Students, and conduct or rights and responsibilities professionals.
Here we highlight campus partners who aren’t typically invited to these conversations who could share valuable insights into the day-to-day lives and behaviors of our students.
One example of an offbeat and observant partner? Food or dining Services.
With their ability to track meal usage as well as report dietary preferences and accommodations, they have knowledge on eating habits (fewer swipes used, more swipes used, guest passes that are being used with less frequency) that can fully inform a conversation about a student. Comment cards or student surveys can hold precious details that connect to changes in student behavior.
Operations and Facilities Staff
Whether your on-campus facilities are newly constructed or renovated, or are showing their age in more ways than you’d like, odds are you’re coming in contact with operations and facilities staff to address issues that stem from these ‘quirks’.
Both resident and commuter students are known to build relationships with operations and facilities staffs in the process of addressing issues such as leaks, clogs, broken or malfunctioning fixtures, and more. These people often see students daily and notice when they’re upset or having an off day – they provide an unique insight outside of student activities and conduct meetings. They generally are on the receiving end of raw student interactions and provide a listening ear in many ways.
Just as Dining Services staff may have information that details usage patterns, maintenance and janitorial staff may glean additional details on a student and their current state when responding to these sorts of calls.
If a fixture was broken, did it seem to have been done by a person in the room?
Is the nature of clogs (high hair loss, vomit) a potential cause for concern?
What was the state of the people in the space when someone arrived to fix it?
Are maintenance or poor use concerns made in a specific space often?
Many of us know that the administrative professionals that serve on the front line of our offices are well-positioned to learn a great deal about students who travel in and out of our offices. While we do meet with students, administrative professionals can add some detail to the broad strokes that we may cover.
What was a student’s state before he entered my office?
Has a student stopped by to see someone, seeming distressed if they were unavailable or out?
How did she seem after she left?
These details provide additional insight on how students come to and leave us that could be the difference between a timely intervention and a missed opportunity to connect or offer immediate support.
Challenges to Implementation
Information sharing with the above campus constituents often raises concerns about regulations like FERPA and HIPAA, designed to protect the educational records and medical records of students who we seek to learn more about.
While sharing information may be a valid concern, it is important to note that this pair of regulations was not expressly designed to encourage information hoarding.
Rather, it is designed to protect the release of an adult’s identifiable educational or medical information to those that are not authorized to do so. Much of the anecdotal evidence we’re proposing be considered – dining utilization, room condition or usage details, etc. – don’t fall within those parameters.
I think generously sharing information w/ your teams & stakeholders is one of the most effective things leaders can do. Information is gold.
— Dr. John Austin (@RyersonJohn) March 29, 2016
Assuming these concerns are being addressed in a ‘campus care team’ model, the question may arise: how many people should participate in these conversations?
From VPs to deans, to directors of key departments, and several of the contributors we’re suggesting, may contribute to an overtaxing and unproductive meeting culture. The more people placed in these crucial strategy meetings, the greater the possibility a meeting will derail. Instead of adding to an already overcrowded room, try rotating out department appearances (one week Dining, the next Facilities, and so forth), or invite an existing member of the team to report on behalf of these additional departments.
In Good Times and Bad
Although much of this conversation has been framed in building relationships to best serve students of concern, it can also be beneficial to foster these relationships for the sake of all students. Providing opportunities for students and their families to interact with these staff members can bear fruit later on; the trust fostered in these moments is often what sets the stage for critical disclosures to take place.
To capitalize on your role as a relationship cultivator, examine the “all hands on deck” volunteer opportunities that exist in your office or department. Look closely at who is made aware of these chances at student/family face time. Then, push your department to periodically go off-script, away from the list of “usual suspects,” and see who else on campus is willing to spend additional time with students.
Do administrative staff members get to serve food at semester-end midnight breakfasts or snack breaks?
Do dining staff members get to work alongside student volunteers and residence life staff on move-in day?
If your campus hosts karaoke, trivia, or dance competitions that pit students against faculty or staff, are operations and facilities staff included in that “all-call” for participation?
As you begin folding “unlikely” collaborators into these involvement opportunities and moments of good, you may find that they’re more willing to assist you when things turn tough.
Recommendations for Success
Generally speaking, the ‘all hands on deck’ approach is only used in the event of an emergency or imminent crisis. It doesn’t have to be this way- nor does it need to seem as if more people are being thrown on a committee for the sake of being comprehensive. To move toward implementing a more well-rounded look at student life, begin by asking these departments how their tracking systems work.
Do administrative staff keep a record of who visits offices?
What does Dining do with their records of dietary concerns?
Genuine curiosity about their work is a great starting point to build collaborative relationships.
Demonstrate that their information has value. Consult them when concerns do arise, thinking holistically about where signs of concern may manifest themselves. Once they’ve been consulted and feel like they’re contributing meaningfully, they may balk less at being asked to do so on a semi-regular basis.
Consultation with new campus partners can continue to happen somewhat informally if your institution doesn’t have an established team to tackle these concerns, or can be incorporated into a more formal structure once buy-in is secured.
Creating Relationships with New Stakeholders
We realize implementing a new initiative may take some time and effort for the people who want to drive it forward. Creating a culture of persistence and continuing to highlight the important aspects of inviting new faces into the conversation promotes the main reason why student affairs exists: to support and promote student success outside of the classroom.
It’s no longer an excuse to say, ‘well we didn’t know they [campus constituents] wanted to help’ when we all have a responsibility in outreach to strengthen campus partnerships.
Joe highlights this notion during a recent #sachat conversation:
We may have different motivations as to why we are in our jobs, but we can’t keep lose track of why our roles exist/who we serve. #sachat
— Joe Sabado (@JoeSabado) March 30, 2016
What voices is your campus missing in the student success conversation?
How have you or your colleagues partnered with additional offices to learn more about student behaviors?
About the Author
Amma Marfo is an outspoken advocate for creativity, believes strongly in the power of humor, and looks forward to helping you find the way you live and work best. Her first book, THE I’S HAVE IT: Reflections on Introversion in Student Affairs, was released in January 2014; her second, LIGHT IT UP, was released in October 2015. Amma works with campuses to strengthen collaborative relationships through her role at Fun Enterprises. To learn more about Amma and her recent adventures, check out her site here.