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Opinion: A Campuswide Approach to Care

Submitted by Mick Steiner,

handsOne of the reasons I was originally attracted to working in Student Life is that no two days are alike. One minute I may be helping a student problem solve an explosive roommate conflict, while the next, I’m relocating a whole apartment due to an overflowing toilet. Some days I get to have deep conversations about the value of being a student leader and the next I’m trying to stop the social media rumor mill from getting the best of a resident. While some ways of helping bring me more joy than others, each of our interactions with students have a direct impact on their ability to persist and enjoy their college experience. 
For those of us who work in housing and residence life, we get to see students at their very best- and sometimes at their very worst. What I have learned over the years is that “crisis” is a word with a fluid definition. Crisis could mean a mental health breakdown to one student, while another may experience the same feelings of stress and anxiety over a personal item that was believed to be used by a roommate over the weekend. While at times, the best we can do is help students survive, ultimately, pride in our work is felt when we get to see them thrive. And no, it’s not always easy. 
Even for those who work outside of housing, your level of involvement in the lives of residential students (and all students) matters. More than ever, students are willing to completely give up when a problem arises. We need good partners to echo positive, encouraging messaging while providing an extraordinary sense of wraparound care in the good times, as well as in those that are more challenging. 
Conversations about Conflict – I believe that just as much learning happens outside the classroom as does inside the classroom. Conflict can be healthy, especially for young adults who are learning to coexist with others who live different values and lifestyles. However, we find that fewer and fewer students are coming to college with previous experience around conflict. Perhaps loved ones shielded their child or maybe mom and dad were the stereotypical helicopter or bulldozer parent. While many students simply won’t ask for help, you may notice a student is “off.” Ask how they are doing. Should a housing concern emerge, guide students to resources such as an RA or professional staff member to ensure that a mountain does not come of a molehill. Reinforcing the positives of confronting conflict allows students to give roommates the opportunity to change and housing staff the ability to manage what they know exists. 

• Student Conduct - College can be a safe place to make minors mistakes without all of the negative, real-world consequences. Sometimes we have to confront students who are in violation of campus policy. Even with the kindest approach, misbehavior can carry feelings of shame and guilt. These feelings are carried to your classes, in the hallways, and when they go home on weekends. Did you know that a student can ask you to be a support person in a student conduct hearing? It does not mean that you have to support their choices, but your presence can provide a sense of encouragement and emotional support. Sometimes, they just need to know that someone they respect is in their corner. 

Engagement – Studies reviewed by the Association of College and University Housing Officers – International (ACUHO-I) have shown that meaningful relationships formed with faculty outside of the classroom are a predictor of student success. With Ohio State’s STEP program, faculty provide mentorship to students in an intentional way. Residential learning communities unite students of a common major or area of study. The Columbus campus offers 5 communities that would be of specific interest to CFAES students. Applications are due each January. Additionally, over the years, we have been thankful to have so many faculty involved in housing programs, sharing your interest and passion with students over a meal. These programs are historically the best attended. Even if some students seem disinterested in class, they do have a desire to get to know you as a person and that happens more easily when you are teaching on their turf. 

Inclusion – Whether it’s the student who grew up in heart of the city, the student who doesn’t appear to have many friends, or the student of color who is in the visual minority, our interactions with these folks makes a difference. What you don’t say often carries as much weight (or more) than what is said. Being mindful of microaggressions heard in the classroom, lunchtime conversations in the Café, or those one-off situations that occur on field trips, students who don’t feel welcome may be pushed to pursue their degree somewhere else. Having conversations about a student’s likes and interests or connecting them with just one other student could be the make it or break it point in their experience. Being knowledgeable of clubs and involvement opportunities might just be the link that student needs to develop a comfortable social circle. Make sure all students know that you are an advocate for their success. 
Many students are just one challenge away from giving up. You can make the difference.