If ever there was a time to offer students some of that “high touch” we pride ourselves on offering in student affairs, it’s now. Like all of us, our students are struggling to make sense of the current state of their lives while also trying to figure out what the immediate future looks like. Their anxiety is high, their concerns real, their sadness over the loss of time with friends, faculty, teammates, and classmates palpable.
They are also getting used to a world in which online communication is the norm. Zoom calls are an increasingly comfortable way for many of our students to connect with friends, family, and faculty. How can we take advantage of the technology to meet their needs for support, reassurance, and connection? Here’s one way.
Many campuses are also home to graduate programs in student affairs, counseling, and social work. These programs typically have significant experiential components in their curricula--practicum placements and internships that place students in the field to try out their classroom learning. Unfortunately, many of these placements have evaporated in the wake of COVID. Graduate students have had long-anticipated opportunities disappear, and for some, that could mean not graduating on schedule.
For graduate students in higher education and student affairs, our current crisis presents an opportunity for them to shift their field placement to a virtual setting. While they are not licensed mental health practitioners, they have experience interacting with and advising students. This is an ideal match for any student affairs division concerned that students may be feeling disconnected from their institution and uncertain about the wisdom of returning, in person or virtually. Student affairs leaders on campus should look to their higher education and student affairs programs for some of the best “foot soldiers” they are likely to find, and send them into the “field” to develop or strengthen relationships with students, especially those who are particularly vulnerable (first-generation students, students with financial challenges, students with disabilities).
For institutions without a formal graduate program in student affairs or higher education, there may be other graduate programs, like counseling or social work, with similar needs for virtual placements and experiences for their students. Student affairs administrators can make good use of these students, whose career choices have already highlighted their eagerness to connect with and support others.
The effective deployment of all human resources on our campuses is imperative at this time of significant crisis. Strengthening connections between divisions of student affairs and relevant graduate programs makes practical sense, costs little, and supports students who are in need of the best “high touch” connections we can offer.