'We're All in This Together"
We all need some form of human connection and support during this isolating time and though we can frequently emphasize with students, rarely have we been able to enter more fully into a conversation about how we are all being affected by the same cause.
“We're all in this together,
When we reach,
We can fly,
We can make it!
We're all in this together,
Once we see,
There's a chance,
That we have
And we take it!”
If you couldn't place the tune above, I'd venture to guess that you haven't spent much time around any pre-teens in the last 10-15 years. Lucky for me, the song from the 2006 Disney Channel movie “High School Musical” has been stuck in my head for weeks and made itself the top track on my internal playlist of themed songs relevant to our current environment.
It's remained at the forefront of my mind through each of the 28 ASCA Chats gatherings we've had so far simply because it continues to get to the heart of each discussion, regardless of topic.
I sang it when we first kicked off the series and all sat around talking “well, now what?”
I sang it when talking through how to get conduct processes online.
I sang it when working through the myriad of what-ifs related to caring for the residential populations.
I sang it when we shared our vulnerabilities and fears during the self-care call.
And I sang it most recently when we convened to discuss how to continue BIT and CARE processes from afar.
Students, faculty, and staff all are coping with various byproducts of the same event, which aside from natural disasters is relatively infrequent. Common sense tells us that students are experiencing concerns and hardships that would easily be on normal CARE team radars, but now it's reached a much larger scale. Concurrently, students have become harder to access, faculty and staff more difficult to convene, and availability of resources more limited.
With genuine hearts for student care and intervention, all who participated in the Chat expressed that their institutions had continued to meet to review referrals and outstanding cases that had been in the process of being addressed prior to going remote. Noted though, was the decrease in the number of referrals being sent to intervention teams perceived to be a combined result of lack of time for completing these reports, misperceptions about the teams' current functioning, and indecision about which cases require referral.
Many shared not only that their systems had continued to function as they were, but that they'd implemented additional methods of touching base with both current and prospective students in light of the current situation. Staff whose responsibilities now differ from the in-person environment have, in some cases, been repurposed to call and connect with them to check on their physical and emotional well-being and have been assigned anywhere from 25-300 students with which to make contact. It's just the right thing to do and for many students, those doing the outreach are finding that it's the first anyone has asked them how they're doing.
Roles and relationships are changed, though. A text or phone call from a staff member is perceived more casually than being called from an institutional number and asked to come to an administrator's formal office setting. But maybe that's a good thing. Pristine offices and suit blazers mask a portion of our underlying reality no matter how relatable we think we are. But the chance to embrace the opportunity for authenticity here is invaluable and the choice of who contacts which students matters.
We all need some form of human connection and support during this isolating time and though we can frequently emphasize with students, rarely have we been able to enter more fully into a conversation about how we are all being affected by the same cause. Right now, we don't have the answers and there is no need to lead students to believe otherwise. There's no precedent to rely on, no experts to look to, and no way to know what the future holds. There is an art to showing compassionate care and authenticity without inciting more panic or oversharing, but authentically communicating that with students and entering into that dialogue is what everyone needs while we all ride out these unknowns together. And that sense of connection and care will last far longer than our current climate.
While it's not the primary purpose of these student reach outs, there's a secondary benefit at play too. By checking in with students about their academic pursuits, physical and socioeconomic stability, and future planning, institutions begin to acquire a glimpse of their institutional future, retention, and enrollments; quantifying the grim financial outlook already on the radar for many schools.
We share similar anxieties when it comes to uncharted territory, supporting students, balancing our own lives, and more. We are faced with extreme uncertainty about when, or if, normal operations will resume, but if there's one thing I've gleaned from three weeks of twice daily Chats with our members, it's that “we're all in this together.”
Reminder: There are no scheduled ASCA Chats on Friday, April 10 or Monday, April 13. For some, institutions are observing the Easter season during this time. Personally, I'll be finishing up writing my own finals and wishing I was here writing to y'all. Stay safe, and if it's something you celebrate, Happy Easter.
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.
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: © Walt Disney Music Co.