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Will There Be Food

Podcast Episode 12

Home for the Holidays

When Campus Must Be Home for the Holidays — Ryan Bye — Presence blog

There’s no place like home for the holidays…except when that home is an empty residence hall. Some of our students can’t go home during the winter break season, whether due to travel costs or unstable home life. But, not all of them can stay on campus either. In the final episode of season 1, we’re speaking with Zduy Chu, a residence life professional at Valdosta State University.

Meet the guests
Zduy Chu
Valdosta State University
Director of Housing and Residence Life
Have A Listen

Transcript

Meg: Hey y’all, it’s Meg Sunga and welcome to “Will There Be Food?,” The student affairs podcast that, like your job, is so much more than free pizza. Every week, we get to explore a new topic in higher ed with humans in the industry. With campuses buckling down for finals, holiday decorations going up, and the increasing amount of late-night breakfast events popping up, we can rejoice — for these are the telltale signs that it’s almost the end of the semester. There’s no place like home for the holidays. But what if going home isn’t an option? College students have different reasons for needing to stay on campus. They could be international athletes or even homeless. Today we’re exploring what housing and residence life departments are doing to identify and support these students. On today’s episode, we have Dr. Zduy Chu, the director of housing and residence life at Valdosta State University. Zduy, thank you so much for joining us on “Will There Be Food?”.

Zduy: Thank you, Meg. I’m glad to be here.

Meg: So excited to talk about home for the holidays and what home may or may not be for our students on campus. Um, I guess to jump into that first question, why are students needing to stay on campus during the holidays in the first place?

Zduy: So I, I actually think there’s, um, a couple of different reasons that we’ve found. Um, just in my, in my experience so far on different campuses and, and a lot of it starts to resonate, um, kind of familiar. Um, like you, you hear it over and over again, but, but some of the needs that we found are that, you know, there’s, there’s a certain situation that’s happening at home, for some of our students that they can’t go home or they don’t want to go home. They don’t want to go back to that environment. And you know, when you were talking earlier in your intro, even about this home-away-from-home feel and having this safe environment, sometimes campus residence halls are those safe environments. Um, the other pieces that we’ve found are a lot more students are working, they’ve found jobs in the communities that they live in, um, and leaving or needing to leave or not having a place to stay for, you know, three, four weeks at a time can really cause a strain on their employment. Um, and even, you know, needing their employer to find other options. So I think working is a piece. Um, the international student piece is a, is definitely a big one as well because a lot of students that do come from overseas, um, you know, are here for a semester or even a year and haven’t made those connections yet or, or don’t really have a place to go. We don’t, we can’t really expect them to fly home, uh, you know, over the holiday or winter break. And so, so there’s a couple of different needs, but that’s, that’s really why a lot of the students are staying on campus. Um, at least, at least from what I’ve seen in my experience.

Meg: For sure. Is this a big problem just for your institution or across the country? What do you, what do you think about that?

Zduy: You know, I, I think it’s, I think it’s a growing trend and a growing issue, um, because, uh, I would say that it is, it is somewhat of a large problem only because a lot of institutions, you know, may or may not be prepared to really house a lot of the students there. But, but we do see that, um, increasing, I guess across the nation where students, you know, don’t have a place to go for the holidays. And we’re talking about, uh, you know, again, weeks at a time, months at a time – where, where individuals just, just don’t have that piece. And so, um, you know, it’s, it is, it is a problem that I think a lot of institutions are trying to find solutions for, um, that kind of maintain a safe environment for those students and, and really kind of helped towards the success, uh, and, and, and, you know, matriculation and retention of them and making sure that they feel comfortable, um, and at least, um, have a place to be. So, yeah, I would say it’s an increasing problem. Um, at least at the, a couple of institutions that I’ve been at, um, it’s at least on the, the tabletop for discussion, but I don’t know, a lot of institutions have been able to move forward with what those solutions are going to look like. But I think over the years and really in the near future, um, a lot of us are going to really have to explore what this is and, and, and really start bouncing ideas off of one another and see what we’re doing to kind of help resolve these issues.

Meg: Are there some type of students more likely to stay than others?

Zduy: Yeah, you know, to be honest with you, I think that, um, when, when we talked a lot about our, um, the students, students especially who, who are more first generation, low income students, we’re seeing stay on campus a lot more. And a lot of them that is more so because they either have jobs here that they’ve found, um, in the community, um, or, uh, you know, they don’t have anywhere else to go. Um, if they can’t go home, can’t go back to their hometown or community. Um, then they’re either, you know, couch surfing with friends, trying to find another place to go. Um, and, and really don’t have the means to kind of put them up, put themselves up for that. As far as a residential contract. You know, a lot of institutions have a feeling of kind of, you know, what charges are out there, like how do we charge a student? But in some cases, you know, you think about just, um, you know, if they’ve already paid for the room, it’s, it’s their space. And so I would say the type of students are, you know, the ones, again, the ones that are working, the ones that can’t go home. Um, and even, you know, student athletes that have playoff games or schedules that extend beyond the holiday break, um, and allowing them to kind of be in there. But I will say that those are the less students that are likely to stay home then, or stay on campus than others. Um, it’s just those individuals who have other pieces or connections or priorities that they need to or have established on a college campus or even those that, that really, um, for whatever reason, just can’t go anywhere else.

Meg: Do you all have at Valdosta, do you all have a current policy, um, for students requesting to stay?

Zduy: You know, it’s, it’s, it’s, yeah, I think it’s interesting because I’m, you know, I, I, I’ve been at Valdosta for three years now and when I first came to Valdosta, we didn’t have a kind of an extended or holiday break or, um, you know, like in typical residence life across the nation, you’ll see that, you know, after final exams in December, the halls will close for a particular period of time and then they’ll reopen in January when things are kind of back in session. And that was the typical way. And that was kind of what it was set up here. Um, but my, my vice president, Vice President Miller, um, you know, really talked a lot and we discussed this option of, you know, why not, why not try this out, try this on. And see what’s going on and then see how many students we actually have that have this need to stay on campus. And so I agree, because I know in working at my other institutions that that wasn’t the option. You know, we would, we would offer temporary housing possibly in another residence hall that might’ve been open for the holiday breaks. But then, you know, there was this always this notion of, you know, can we accommodate everyone that wanted to, um, bw using rooms that were, you know, that weren’t assigned yet, but then needed to be assigned in January. So you still had this limitation on kind of when you can stay, how long you can stay, that you’d have to move up your belongings to another place and then loop them back. And so, and so we were talking about it and, and, and so our current policy at VSU to be honest with you, is that since they’ve already paid for their, um, you know, for their stay here and, and kind of what that looks like for them, um, why not just let them stay? And I know for us it was, um, you know, a conversation around safety and, and food and services that we have on campus because we didn’t expect all of our campus or everyone on campus who remain open during those breaks either. We also didn’t want the students to feel abandoned and kind of say, yeah, you can stay here but you have nothing for you. You just have your room. And so we were working a couple of different things, but as far as the students requesting this day, to be honest with you, we still get that question to this day because a lot of students and family members don’t believe us when we say yes and say you actually can stay over the break. And so, so we get that question a lot. But for them requesting, um, the only reason that we ask that they let us know, um, is so that we can inform our, our university police department, our campus, um, of the numbers and who’s here so that they know, um, whenever they’re doing rounds and checking out one of the buildings that, Hey, there’s somebody living here. That’s why the lights are on or that’s why this is the way it is. It’s not somebody going randomly through our halls, and for access to. And so, so the policy really is that we just want to know if you’re, if you’re going to be here so that we can figure out ways to best support you while you are here.

Meg: Absolutely. Yeah. The logistics behind it, you know, involve so many different campus partners. You mentioned police and dining and, and all of that. And I think that students sometimes whenever they’re requesting to stay, don’t see that big picture of who all is involved and what is necessary behind the scenes. But I think that it’s awesome that you have that buy in with everybody else.

Zduy: Absolutely.

Meg: You’d mentioned that this is something that you are, um, I don’t know if you had mentioned, if this isn’t that you started when you got to Valdosta, um, or if this is, um, a program that you’ve kind of taken over, but is this year round housing marketed towards students pretty upfront or like when they first come to, um, VSU or is that something that they find out as, you know, the holidays approach?

Zduy: So this, this is something that we actually mentioned during, um, during orientation, um the summer orientation we have for our housing programs. Um, it’s in our contract. It’s in everything that they signed. They know and they, and we do that because we don’t like, we try to remove those barriers ahead of time, right? Like so that they don’t have to think about being on the side of the road. What am I going to do? Like, no, just go ahead and know that you can stay if you want to. And we, and, and during these times of marketing and orientation and all that, we actually speak to them and speak to the parents about, you know, we know that your student is going to get involved. We know that your school is going to do this and that and just know that when we say home away from home, this is their place of residence and they can go in and out as they please. And we have security measures, we have different things in place so that your resident, a student won’t be by themselves. Um, but yeah, I would say that, that, that, that marketing piece of it is that we, we, we do provide that to them and we let them know that, um, that they can stay with us because it is, it’s almost their right to stay with us because they, they have their room and have their, their space. Um, and so a lot of it goes out really during those time frames. Um, but we also, um, toward, um, I would think that November, holidays, uh, where we go Thanksgiving break and so forth, we start to send out reminders, posters, and then let them know that, um, and, and, and this is really the time where we say, Hey, if you are staying, you know, let us know that. That kind of serves as a reminder of you can stay on campus and you are allowed to and these are just the steps you need to follow in order for us to understand and know what your needs are so that we can meet them.

Meg: That’s amazing. Zduy, I’m going to circle back to something you mentioned earlier. Um, you had said people, when it comes to finding places to stay, you mentioned that of course some people do couch surf. Um, is that something that you want students to avoid? Do you have a, you know, does your team preference them to stay on campus?

Zduy: You know, we do. Um, and only because I think, I think part of it is that we… it’s, it’s much like off campus, living in on-campus living. I, there’s, there’s, there’s a lot that we can control and help aid in when a student stays on campus as opposed to not stays on campus. And for us, you know, couch, I mean we’ve, we’ve all done it at time from time to time, but the whole couch surfing thing, saying with friends, um, and at times we can feel burdened or you know, feel like we are that burden. Uh, when we’re asking for that knowledge, we have friends and friends are all, you know, “you can stay with us, however long like.” Yada, yada yada. It might be fun for awhile, but we, we, what we try to do is take away some of those barriers and stressors. And so letting them know that they don’t have to do that if they don’t want to because we have options for you on campus and we have that ability for you. Like, I, you know, and I talked about this before, cause not just at V state, but at other institutions I’ve been at where we don’t have, um, kind of holiday break, um, students are stressed out at that time because they’re trying to find out where they’re going to stay, who they’re going to stay with. Um, and I know that some institutions have done a great job of like homestays possibly for our international student population where it’s, you know, it’s, Hey, here’s a program that’s we’re doing, you know, spend, uh, spend the holidays with an American family or you know figure out what this is like, and so we have groups that sign up for that and do those types of things. And I know our international office actually still does some of that, um, work here as well. Um, but this, this just gives them a different option. Um, just because what we don’t want to happen is that we don’t want a few students who ever feel, like, like they’re, they’re, they’re alone in this, that they have to fend for themselves and then… college is all about learning and it’s all about adapting and really developing them. Um, but I think just thinking back to kind of the basic needs, right? I’m a person, um, and thinking about food and shelter being some of those basic needs, what we’re trying to do is provide and make sure and say, you know, those, those things we can take care of. You worry about all that other stuff that you have to do because we know that this is stressful for you. We know that this can be, um, stressful and can be a big deal. And so we want to take as much away from that, from you as possible so that you can concentrate on more important things.

Meg: It’s so interesting that you said, um, the example of the homestay experience, because I actually ran into that for the first time in my career when I was at Virginia Commonwealth. One of their assistant directors, um, that worked with LGBTQ students. Camilla Hill, she had posted on Facebook, um, kind of like a Google form calling out to individuals and the Richmond area, um, asking for volunteers to take in, um, any LGBTQ+IA students who were needing, um, a place to stay over the holidays. And I thought that was just so interesting because I was like, wow, like you’re as an individual, you know, putting these, um, putting the community resources and the campus resource together, um, and to helping our students. I think that’s fantastic. I wonder, you know, is that because I was the first time I experienced that, is that common across different campuses?

Zduy: You know, I would say much like the, the holiday housing that we have and holiday break housing, it is a growing trend. Um, and I think for, for individuals or institutions that may not be able to offer you around housing, I think that is an option that a lot of schools are looking toward. Um, just to kind of give again, the student a different resource, a different, um, support system and kind of what that looks like. And then, you know, with, with the homestays too, it’s, it’s, it’s an interesting piece because you, you’re talking about a high level of trust that you have and an individual, their families, and even the institution side of it to say, you know, you’re, you’re okay, um, as a, this is a person or family that you know, has agreed to do this and they want to be that support and that, and I think those are unique as well because it establishes, um, I think a different relationship with the student, uh, when successful cause you’re talking about, you know, possibly faculty, staff or community members that that student wouldn’t normally interact with. Um, but now has a different set of kind of support in kind of what they’re doing and so, and so, yeah, I would say that it is something that’s growing. Um, I think across the nation. And I think the more, the more that, um, you know, I interact with different housing professionals, I see that as, as an option if it’s not a year round housing option.

Meg: Sure. Zduy, I used to work in housing as you know, for the listeners listening, I referenced my time in housing a lot during “Will There Be Food?” And actually fun fact, Zhuy was one of my very first, um, interviews at TPE!

Zduy: Yeah! Fun times.

Meg: Fun times! Um, and I, I, I know what a lot of housing people who, you know, are listening to this can be thinking as far as, okay, you know, “we are a housing team of three, right?” And how… And our RAs are, you know, are not only our RAs, but they’re also tutors and they’re mentors in different programs and in Greek life and all these things. You know, of course we’re all, we all wear the hats and I know that there’s people out there that are going to be thinking, I don’t know if we can pull this off at our campus because we have limited resources and are just apprehensive to kind of that idea of year-round housing. What are, what are some of those, I guess, apprehensions… Or why, why are people – rightfully so – still maybe not on board with, with, um, open halls, uh, during the holidays.

Zduy: Yeah. And that’s a, you know, that’s, that’s a really good question because I think, um, during, during our initial, um, kind of launch of what this would look like, we, we spent months and months determining, you know, what those pieces look like because you’re right, I mean we’re, we’re talking and asking a staff of professional staff, grads and students to, um, to really care for and really make sure our students are, are, are, or kind of supported through the holiday break and what that looks like. And so I think, I think there are a couple of different apprehension pieces that, that, um, that, well, at least that housing, um, individuals we are apprehensive about. And some of those are, uh, you know, the way that we write our contract, right? And so the way that we ran our contract and our housing contract, um, we talk a lot about, you know, well, we don’t cover those breaks. And so what would the charges look like if there needs to be any charges? Because to be honest with you, sometimes when, when buildings are empty and you might know this as being the previous housing professional, but when they’re empty, we tend to cut the lights out a little more. You know, we try to conserve energy and conserve some pieces so that the cost to the student doesn’t, um, rise because, you know, we’re, we’re, we’re needing to keep things open. Um, another piece is that, you know, the, the questions that they might ask are, you know, is this worth it? Um, and what I mean by that is, you know, and even at VSU, I’ll talk about that a little bit, but we have, we have about 3,000 students that live on campus with us. And the first year that we did at, uh, we had about 240 students that stayed, um, over the break. Um, the second year that we did it, um, that number increased to about 400 something. And then this past year it was up to 670, um, that stayed on campus. Now, I’m not saying stay the entire time, but you know, in and out of the halls, um, you know, staying the week after you know, their finals and then left whenever the holidays actually started or came back early. And so just allowed in different people would access that. But I would say a lot of people and housing professionals are apprehensive because of kind of the, the, the sheer just thought of, you know, what is this gonna look like for us? The staffing piece, the cost piece. Because I know, you know, when, whenever you have students in the halls, um, that means that their safety and everything needs to be provided for. Um, and then even dining services, you know, how many students are we staying open for? Um, and what does that look like? And that’s why we ask our students to just give us a heads up of who’s going to be staying. And we actually even put “when”, right? We say the whole break or you know, the first week, the second week, like select which days are going to be here. And that way we can better assess kind of where we are and where are we at, what we’re actually doing now. Something. Cause after the first year, I will say the first year that we did it, um, we, we did your normal RA duty rotation. Uh, you know, we paid them a little extra because it was extra, it was outside of their scope or as far as you know, needing to be here during the holiday breaks. Same with the grad, same with the professional staff…and just let them know that and this is something we’re trying out and so we can take, you know, a couple of, we need a couple more staff members to fill that position to kind of make sure we’re good. But this past year we actually implemented something that I think is unique and, and, and we got the idea from, um, talking with individuals. Um, even actually from West Georgia to talk about their, their response team. And, and what we’ve done is we actually created a 24/7/365 response, um, team that works in housing. And it’s, um, we employ students for it. Um, but they are literally here every day and every hour, um, of the year. Um, to really support our students. And this helps, you know, if students aren’t locked out or if they needed a pin, if they, um, you know, see anything that’s not supposed to be happening in the halls, maintenance issues, whatever the case may be, they could always call and talk to a real person about their issues and problems. And so, and I would say, and you know, we worked really hard with UPD, um, and um, and individuals about what that looks like for them. But to be honest with you, since we implemented that two years ago, um, our response rate has increased, um, significantly because, you know, when you have somebody around watching cameras 24/7/365, um, and so the students that are staying on campus with us now know that they need to call that number if anything happens, if anything goes wrong or if they just need assistance or advice. And so we have someone now responding in that capacity. And what that’s also done is it’s taken the, the burden off of the residential hall staff, of RAs and pro staff to have to be here physically during those times because we already have somebody here physically during those times. Um, and so, and so that’s actually helped us quite a bit, um, within that. But, but again, and I, I would say that’s one of the, the reasons why people would be apprehensive as well, because how do you staff that? What do you staff that with? How much money does that cost? Um, but what we’ve found is, you know, in reducing kind of some of the other costs that we have in the middle of implementing that, it’s actually saving us a little more money than then what our practices have been in the past. Um, and so, so that’s just something that I think why some individuals would be apprehensive about that is because.. They are just the not knowing of how many people need it. Um, the security measures that go around, it’s the response time that goes around it. Uh, but even this, this whole notion of hmm, you know, like how many people would actually use it and would it be worth it. But I would say if people are paying attention to the, kind of the, the landscape of, of what higher education is right now, um, you’ll, you’ll see a lot more people are needing this kind of service than not. And, um, and maybe it’s not a 24 hour service or not a, not a, um, a break, but, but something needs to be done to kind of help support our students that are, um, that don’t have a place to go. Um, whether, if for whatever reason that is.

Meg: So you have found a way to supplement your year-round staff or your regular RA and professional staff, um, by implementing this additional security and assistance type of service.
Zduy: Yeah, we have and you know, housing, we like acronyms and so, so we call it HEART uh, which is our housing and engagement and action response team. And so it really is just for them – a 24/7 service. And, and UPD was on board with it cause it actually took a lot of calls away from the UPD as well. Um, HEART still has a direct line to UPD anytime, uh, but at the, but with that, you know, when students call, a lot of times we can handle the situations with our staff and there’s always at least five to seven staff on during HEART hours. And so we could always handle it without needing to escalate it to UPD. But if we do need to with, they’re always just a really a walkie-talkie signal away from responding to our instance. And so, so yeah, I would say that we’ve, we’ve done that to help with the kind of the break housing, but that that in turn has helped with actually year round, um, things that are happening in the halls anyways.

Meg: Nice! Shout out to HEART. I like that. Uh, housing will never stop being cheesy. I love it.

Zduy: (laughs) We won’t, we won’t. We love our acronyms.

Meg: (laughs) We love our acronyms! Zduy, I want to know, but because, okay, so we talked about obviously dining services being a part of this, you know, during break experience for the students who need to stay on campus. Obviously we have HEART helping with security and different pieces. When we also talk about housing. We can’t, we can’t avoid talking about programming. Oh, but is there anything that happens for students during, during the holidays or the winter breaks in regards to programming?

Zduy: You know? Yes. Um, so, so what we do is, um, we, we work with the, again our dining staff and everyone to kind of figure out what we need to do as far as food and how we need to support these students. And I think one of the biggest pieces is that, um, we, we do have a, uh, a flex program here where, you know, it’d be sign up for free meal plan. You sign up for your, you get dining dollars and you get flex hours. And, um, we have, we probably partner with over 50, 60 restaurants, shops, convenience stores, markets, um, you know, even barber shops salons and different things in the area that actually take flex. And so a student, um, so, you know, we, we talk a lot about, you know, “Hey, if you’re, if you’re.. the halls are closed today or you know, all the food options are closed, you know, you can go to one of these spaces as well.” And kind of felt like that. Um, as far as, as far as the actual programming and things that are happening, um, we, we do try to connect with them at least. And now it may not be your typical program, right? We’re not, we’re not gonna have a pizza party in the lounge or a move night or things like that, but along with the HEART representatives and what’s going on is that they get a list of everyone that’s staying right and the officers get a list of everyone that’s staying and going on. And so for us, it’s, it’s, the programming piece is more of an engagement piece for us. And it’s just, uh, it’s just checking in and making sure that throughout the break, um, you know, we’re, that they know that we’re still here and know what’s going on. They know what’s happening. Uh, but they also know that we’re here, right? Because I think a lot of times too, when you don’t see us, um, you know, some individuals can think, well, I can just do what I want or, you know, just hanging out and those things. But for us it’s more of an engagement piece to make sure that they know that we’re in support of them. And so you’ll, you’ll see this whenever our, um, how responders for HEART are walking around the buildings, you know, they’ll, they’ll have that list of actually knock on doors and say, “Hey, you know, I work for housing, I work for HEART. Is there anything that you need? I know you’re saying for the break.” You know, and a lot of it is just a conversation – an engagement piece. But as far as the programs and things we don’t necessarily do. Um, but I know dining services stays open as long as we can, um, in order for us to, to kind of have those, um, to kind of give them a break as well. Same with our custodial staff, our maintenance staff and so forth. And so, but what we do is we allow the students, or at least let them know a couple of weeks ahead of time that says, “Hey, this is the cutoff date for our dining halls, but these markets are still open on campus. If you want to grab something or our Starbucks or Arctic Fillet is open.” So there’s always something that’s going to be supportive of them. Now there will be probably, I think there’s a week period of time kind of around that December 24, 25th timeframe where the university is closed all together that what we do is we make sure that they know, we make sure that they know their options. Um, and then, um, but then also let them know that this is a time where, um, we’ll still be checking in with HEART and stuff, but you won’t see a lot of activity on campus. And a lot of them, to be honest with you, over the past three years, a lot of them have been supportive of that and understanding of that. And, and, and to be honest with you, the reason why is because the reason why they’re here over the break is not to engage in programming or not to engage in a lot of the things that we would typically do is just because they want to be here. Um, because they’re working or they don’t have a place to go, but as long as they feel like they have something that they can at least not latch onto, but, um, gathered beforehand, I think that’s, that’s the key is to make sure that we communicate with them what’s happening and that these are the things are coming down the pipeline.

Meg: We’ve touched on this a little in previous episodes of “Will There Be Food?,” do you find your holiday housing service intersects with the issue of homelessness at your institution?

Zduy: Oh, absolutely. I mean, to be honest with you, it does. Um, and the reason I, I say that is because just even two days ago, we had a call from our dean of students and where there was a student that experienced that, and a lot of it was, you know, students that, you know, they, they’re, they’re finding places to go, right? In their cars, in the library, in the offices, or you know, hallways and things. And, and, and for us, you know, UPD responds as they should accordingly. And that’s where kind of our dean of students steps in to kind of say, you know, what’s going on there? Uh, what’s really happening? And once that story kind of gets out, we do see that that is an increase because a lot of our students are like, this is, this is their way out, right? This is their opportunity. This is their chance to, to try to make something to try to be successful. And, and we’ve seen that increase of, of homelessness from our students. And it’s interesting that, you know, the, the topic of the entire podcast is, you know, “Will There Be Food?”, because we talk about food insecurity, we talk about, um, a lot of the different pieces that impact that. And I think housing during the break is one of those major factors because we don’t, we don’t necessarily ask a reason why, you know, at least formally why students are needing to stay here. Um, but I do know that our staff engage them and talk to them. And some of the response is that I don’t have anywhere else to go. Like if I was not allowed to stay on campus, I would be literally outside again, waiting for the halls to open back up. And, um, and I saw that. So you know, um, and it’s interesting because, because you see that a lot, um, on our campus and it’s, it’s, it’s interesting only because there’s, it’s, it’s such an increase over the past couple of years, at least, that I’ve seen. Um, and that institutions are really doing things, um, and really trying to respond to that with food pantries and, and, uh, you know, temp housing and so forth. But I know VSU does in a good job of identifying or at least putting out there in marketing that, Hey, if this is your situation, we need to know about it because our main priority is to make sure that you are successful. And so for us, we do see a lot of individuals who, who really appreciate the, um, the year round housing for this fact of that they don’t have anywhere else to go.

Meg: Right. This might be the first time they’ve had stable housing their entire life.

Zduy: Yes.

Meg: Which goes into my next question. Um, the group of students we’ve been talking about is often and the most times an invisible group. Is there any way that you or VSU is tracking who needs these housing services or who is using it?

Zduy: So I think, I think once we are aware of ’em of kind of a student situation, especially if they are, um, homeless or even have food insecurities, Ym, then then, then we do encourage them to connect with our Dean of students office who also in turn, um, puts their message out to… to kind of…is individuals that are responsible for those areas. And so I know that, that that office keeps track of who those individuals are and follows up on a monthly basis of, you know, just continually checking in. How’s your situation now? Is there any other support that you need? Um, and you know, what’s, what’s, hmm, how else, how can we also, uh, for further support you in that and then for our, for those students who are staying, um, you know, we, again, we don’t necessarily ask them the reason why and what we’ve done so far is ask them just, you know, if you are staying, let us know when you are staying, when you’re going to be in, when you’re going to be out. Um, but, and for, for us it is, I think, I think we’re, we’re moving toward the, um, the notion because right now it’s really informal, right? You’ve got your, your RAs and your hall directors engaging in conversation and we get that information. Um, but I think it’s, it’s, um, you know, something that, uh, we’re going to try this year and it’s, it’s good to, to ask, cause you reminded me that I need to do this, but kind of that, that, um, that questionnaire that asks if they’re staying, it’s just kind of a dropdown. Right? I drop down when you, uh, you know, can you give us a couple of reasons of why you need to stay? Like this won’t impact your length of stay. Won’t be impacted thing. It won’t be used, you know, one way or the other. They’re determined. We just need to know, um, or would like to know what those are… in order to better serve our population through the year. Because a lot of times too, you know, we don’t want to wait until a student needs, I’m like really is in dire need of a situation. In order for us to support them. And so if we gather that information beforehand or know what’s going on, um, then then we can really help, uh, you know, get them solutions before they get to a point where they feel like they can’t make it anymore. They feel like they can’t be good no more. Um, and that’s, and that’s what we’re trying to do and that’s our end goal. It’s really thinking about how we can best support them. And so, you know, it’d be one of those dropdowns. It just asks, you know, the reason why, uh, as many as you can and then it will have an option that says, you know, do not want to, um, disclose. And then we will kind of go from there. But I think it’s important for us to know why these students are saying on campus because I think it’s a great, it’s going to be a great report. And you know, for those that are listening to the podcast, I even think that, you know, well yeah, you say all that, but where is it? Right? And because right now, higher education, is a lot about kind of big data and data driven data and evidence based pieces. And so for us it’s gathering that and saying, Hey, guess what? We did this for three years now, four years now, and here’s the reason why. Maybe we should start looking at, you know, tackling these barriers beforehand. Or if you have ever had questions about and being apprehensive about year-round housing, see if your students are engaging or at least needing these pieces of support because this is something that you may be missing out on as an opportunity to support them.

Meg: Absolutely. Absolutely. It is, you know, this is how best practices become best practices – to be able to give the data behind it. And that’s awesome that y’all are doing that. Zhuy, As we wrap up the show, I always try to ask a question that provides our listeners with tangible, tangible action items or advice. So the question I have for you is if an SA wanted to start offering year-rounding housing for their students at their institution, what would your advice be to help them get started?

Zduy: You know, I think, um, I mean, to be honest with you, I think a couple of pieces is, is just knowing that, that we’re not alone, right? At the end. I think our, I think our housing professionals a lot of times feel because we, we usually have the most work force and our students and our staff, we usually have the most, um, money because if our, uh, of kind of our rent and revenue and all that. Um, and, and so, but, but it’s just understanding that your, that this shouldn’t be a decision or something that you’re doing alone. Because I know it’s just thinking about it from a customer service standpoint and, and acknowledging a student’s needs and really walking through a student’s experience in mind with them or even putting ourselves in their shoes. Because we talk about that a lot, right? We talk about, Hey, let’s meet the students where they are, right? Let’s just meet them where they are. Um, but, but one of the things that we fail to recognize is, um, you know, where are they really? Because we come up with solutions. We come up with things that we feel are best practices or that would work. Meanwhile, the student is in another corner looking at us like, that’s great for those folks. But what about for me? Um, and so it’s really meeting the students where they are. And so I would think, you know, some of the advice and tips that I would have is work with, um, your, your staff, work with your, um, police department, dining services, auxiliary services, plant operations, maintenance, housekeepers, just to see if this is even feasible. Um, and then really decide and think about, you know, what is this, what would this look like? Because I, I don’t, I would, I would not want an, uh, an institution or an essay pro to really rush into this decision neither. Because we all know that if we start making plans for things and just kind of execute it, then there’s a lot of pieces that we might miss themMark. Um, and, and, and not provide the services or the support that a student needs. And so, um, you know, look at institutions that are doing it. Cause I know (unclear) she was not the only one, um, offering year round housing. I don’t know which other ones are out there, but I don’t, I know that we’re not the only one. And, and it’s again really thinking about it from a student’s perspective cause we talk about this, you know, one of the first questions you asked me was why are students staying on campus or the holidays and as an essay pro, it’s our, it’s our duty and job to really figure out why, what is it that our student population needs? What is it that they are requesting, not only because you know, it’s an arbitrary request but get down to the root of it, the issue of why can’t they go home? Um, why, why do they need to stay here? And then let’s figure out how we can provide those solutions. Because I know not every institution is going to be able to, to, to afford financially what this is like, what this looks like. Um, but at the same time, you know, in thinking about those initial 240 or so students that we had, um, stay, stay with us and then increasing almost by 200 every year. Um, you know, I’m not saying that it’s a direct correlation, but we have had our retention in housing go up because, of what we’re doing. And so it’s really figuring out what that looks like and how that that applies to them and, and, and more and more often than not, we’re going to see that it is more beneficial than not having this, but it’s just we just have to do our homework just like everything else. We have to do our homework and make sure it makes sense and make sure that we can do it, um, and really be responsible about our decisions and doing it. Because I know, and you know this as well as a, as a old housing pro or even student affairs pro, we’re all in our fields, right? All the time. We are in our fields. And so when we talk about emergency housing, homelessness, insecurities, all that, we want to solve their problems for them and say, “Oh my gosh, stay here. Stay with me. If you need to, you know, I’ll give you some stuff”, but we really need to be responsible for what this looks like because well, we don’t want to do is put the burden back on the student because we all of a sudden increase their cost of living with us. Um, because we had to provide these services for, for them in the future. And I think that now financially students are struggling. And so it’s the last thing that we want to do is say, “Hey, guess what? We’re gonna increase our fee because we’re now doing this year-round housing. Because then that’s going to cause individuals to say, “well, I couldn’t afford it before and now I really can’t afford it, um, to, to stay here and do that.” And so it’s just being responsible, moving things around and shifting things around, but then also finding out the why the students are needing it. But then why are you wanting to do it as an institution?

Meg: Thank you for the work you’re doing.

Zduy: Thank you for the work you’re doing. No, I’m serious because I think that this, this whole podcast piece is really going to open… Or um at least give different perspective, right. From different individuals. And that’s really one of the reasons and one of the main ways that we learn in our profession. Um, and even, you know, with, with Presence being a partner of kind of higher education in student affairs, this, this is how we get the work done, right? We will rely on one another ,o really see what best practices are, what’s working for you, what’s not working for you, and hearing from individuals, from different areas in different fields because you could always pull things and there’s no reason for you to kind of reinvent the wheel of what’s going on because our star students are going to be our students, you know, and like I said before with basic needs, you strip everything away and you take away where students are from, where they’re coming from, where they grew up in and all that. They still have a basic need. Um, that’s what we can do to provide for them. Um, and no matter who you are and what students who are aware, what institution go into – that need is still going to be there. So let’s figure out what we can do with that. So this, this is great.

Meg: Yeah, Zhuy. I love it. Zhuy, thank you so much for joining us today. Uh, excuse me, Dr. Chu! It has been a pleasure getting to chat with you about this and like I said, share your work with, with our listeners.

Zduy: Great. Thank you for having me.

Meg: You’ve been listening to “Will There Be Food?” with me, Meg Sunga. My guest this week was Dr. Zduy Chu, director of housing and residence life at Valdosta State University. You can follow Dr. Chu on Twitter at @ChuChu1906. You can follow “Will There Be Food?” at @HelloPresence on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. For episode transcript and show notes, head to presence.io/podcast. Don’t forget to rate us, subscribe, and share with all the friends. And let us know what topics you want us to cover next. “Will There Be Food?” is a production of Presence. It’s hosted by me, Meg Sunga. The show is directed, edited, and mixed by our producer, Luke Burton. Our executive producer is Cassandra Corrado. Thank you to everyone who has listened, subscribed, and supported this first season of “Will There Be Food?”. It has been an amazing journey so far, so hang tight as we go back into the kitchen to whip up deeper conversations, other topics, and more delicious episodes for season two. See you all soon.

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