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What If?



For housing and residence life professionals, crisis management and new daily challenges are expectations of the job and many take initial interest in the field knowing they will get to use that portion of their brain to aid students in difficult situations. But even for the most seasoned ResLifers, global pandemic response was likely low on the emergency planning agenda.

What if? 
 
It's the start to any number of any number of worst-case scenario discussions and two simple words vital to strategic planning, crisis response, and proactive action. The “what ifs” drive our judgements and fuel our creativity in advance thinking. 
 
For housing and residence life professionals, crisis management and new daily challenges are expectations of the job and many take initial interest in the field knowing they will get to use that portion of their brain to aid students in difficult situations. But even for the most seasoned ResLifers, global pandemic response was likely low on the emergency planning agenda… until now.
 
I mentioned it once in a previous blog, but I certainly do not envy the college personnel who have to weigh decisions that have no right answers nor the personnel who must put those plans into action working directly with students' anxieties while trying to mask their own.
 
As someone who spent more than ten years in housing and residence life, I was privy to participation in numerous BIT units, emergency teams, and strategy groups. Preparations and case study exercises honed our skills for what seemed like a variety of incidents, but in hindsight none focused nearly enough on the implications of external forces dictating so very much of the response yet absent any precedent. 
 
Today's conversation “Hunkering in the halls: Implications for campuses remaining residential,” though robust, understandably produced more questions than answers. Rather than sharing and fine-tuning resources, the focus remained largely on the question of how each institution would respond “if” certain outcomes were to become reality. The possibilities were endless and the list of viable resolutions even more so. As a result, I do not have a list of resources or talking points to share in this recap having been met with conversations on a topic that is very much still in development and changing day to day. Instead, what I do have is an enormous list of “what ifs” for your contemplation.
 
Most of these topics were bounced around by participants in the chat. Others have been voiced more privately to me by colleagues in one-on-one conversations. I challenge you to think through some of these questions as you reflect on how these “what ifs” would shape your own campuses or impact your decisions.
 
What if we close the residence halls?
  • Do we just close access to the halls? Or facilitate an end-of-semester move-out? What if students aren't able to come remove their things?
  • What if students do not have alternate housing? What determines whether or not a student should be permitted to stay in the halls?
  • What if we do not have enough staff available to facilitate this type of process? 
  • Does facilitating a move-out create an undue risk to the persons who would have to gather in mass to vacate?
  • Do we remove the shared items such as carts during this time to limit cross-contact?
  • What if students are found on campus who were not permitted to stay?
 
What is expected of live-in staff during this time?
  • Are live-in staff still required to function in the same college employment role they were previously? Are they allowed to choose to leave? Are they required to be available for students?
  • Do rounds, on call/duty, desk operations still take place? If we remove these proactive processes, what happens to our liability?
  • Are staff expected to enter spaces without PPE for student interventions when responding on call?
  • What do we expect of student staff during this time? What if RAs want to leave? Do they need to resign their leadership positions? 
  • Does residence life continue to hear conduct cases? Or are these passed off to a conduct office to free up focus for other processes?
If any students remain on campus, what measures are taken?
  • Are they permitted to leave their rooms? What about to attain food or other necessities? 
  • Is the mailroom still operational? Do students retrieve their mail or is it delivered to them?
  • How are students held accountable if they do not follow federal, local, or campus guidelines? Will you do an eviction now or later? 
What considerations should we give to facility use?
  • Will shared common areas remain open? What about shared bathrooms? Laundry facilities?
  • Do we move students to consolidate? Do we move students to spread them out? Do we move students so that no one has a roommate? Do we put everyone in private apartments or suites, if able? Do we leave these decisions to students?
  • What expectations do we have of custodial staff? Are they working right now? If so, what guidelines are they given?
  • What if the government needs our on-campus spaces for use as medical units?
  • What consideration should be given to air handling units shared within buildings where students are located?
What are our obligations to students?
  • Should we continue to have work study students on the clock? Or invoke the clause that allows them to continue to be paid without doing so?
  • Should staff do occasional, routine check-ins with students? If so, how often? For what purpose(s)? 
  • If we prorate room and/or board, what are the financial impacts to the department and institution?
  • What resources and campus services can we still offer to students?
What if we have (or gain) COVID cases among residential students? How does this change our answers to all of the other questions?
 
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Want to join a future chat? Check out our schedule and register online
 
Have additional thoughts or recommendations on any of the questions/topics discussed during today's chats? Feel free to share in the comments.
 
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Any opinions, stated or implied, are those of the author and do not reflect the official view, position, or endorsement of the Association for Student Conduct Administration.
 
Photo: Florida Southern College online archive

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