Connecting With Our Students During Covid-19
For over a decade, we have argued for a student-centered view of higher education in our daily practice. We championed educational processes that encourage students to construct learning; we act upon our belief that education must engage and inspire much more than transfer knowledge. We believe every student deserves a chance at rigorous higher education and should be supported by exceptional faculty members and student service professionals. Our background is firmly rooted in social justice, equity and the belief that education truly matters and is, in fact, the only way to break cycles of poverty.
The faculty and staff members who choose to work at our institution embraced this mission and demonstrated these values every day in a pre COVID-19 world. Now, as we think back upon the lessons learned over the last month, we see that a student-centered culture of genuine hospitality has been the training we needed to respond and mobilize when our students really need us.
Keeping in Touch with Our Students
Over the past three weeks, our institution made the commitment to personally reach out to every single student to check on them, ask how they are doing and make sure they are okay. What we learned was staggering in so many ways.
Not Just an Education
Our staff excitedly met the challenge of contacting students and boldly stepped out of their ‘regular’ jobs to reach out to our students in a time of chaos and need. Collectively, we learned that, for our students, we are not just an educational provider, we are their security, their stability and their support system.
The most heartbreaking discussions included students who lost a loved one or faced food insecurity, yet still asked for advice about staying current on their work. Like many of us, our students are seeking some sort of normalcy in this crazy time, and that normalcy, right now, is our mission and our purpose.
What We Learned
We learned that our students wanted to hear from us – less than 10% of our entire student body didn’t respond to our outreach efforts, and given our student demographic, we find that data extraordinary. We are the safe spots in our students’ unstable and frenzied world. Academically, some students can meet us halfway; some can meet us more than halfway, and some are struggling just to engage. In today’s climate, faculty are understanding; policies are less restrictive, and we are truly putting the needs of our students as people first, students second. That’s our obligation, and we – like many others in our industry – are doing it well.
The question now swirling in our minds: How can we carry this lesson forward? How can we meet students where they are, seeing them as people, in these ‘new normal’ times?