March 19, 2020
Rowan University (NJ)
Wayne Gretzky once said, "Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been." This advice certainly applies to how we're striving to comprehend the disruption caused by the rapid onset of COVID-19, to digest the overabundance of information available to us, and to determine how we can best support our campus communities and do our jobs in this time of uncertainty. While I am no expert in infectious disease or virology, my background in higher education and emergency preparedness positions me to share some thoughts with colleagues and friends.
First, let's recognize we all come from campuses with unique cultures and many who are reading this may not necessarily be in positions to make decisions that impact our entire campuses. Nevertheless, we all must refocus and continue to look for ways to support our students, especially those who are adversely impacted by these decisions.
Campuses are taking quick and decisive action in response to COVID-19, as it is a disservice for a university to wait and see what happens next before reacting. With any emergency, but specifically an outbreak or event where resources could be stretched thin, the speed at which it plays out matters significantly in how it is handled. Many recent headlines express the idea of "social distancing." This is not a new term, but it is being applied much more broadly now than in recent memory. Social distancing involves actions designed to stop or slow down the spread of a highly contagious disease, with the intention of not only benefitting the individual, but also relieving and/or preventing extreme demand on critical and/or limited resources, such as health providers and facilities. Each decision to move courses online, limit outside visitors, etc. has been evaluated based on potential impact and benefit to stakeholders (especially our most vulnerable).
A key concept in dealing with any incident is the ability to scale up or down based on the situation as it is actually presented or anticipated. Accordingly, the members of a campus emergency management team will consider the worst conceivable situation and plan to meet it with an appropriate response. Here is an example to which most of us can likely relate: When you order food for a campus event, you want to ensure you have enough for all attendees, even when you may not have a confirmed headcount. By ordering based on past experience, room capacity, etc., you can ensure you won't be caught scrambling at the last minute or have unhappy attendees. If you do not meet attendance expectations, attendees can take leftovers back to their residence hall and students will be leaving your event happy or perhaps surprised instead unhappy and hungry.
In terms of postponing or cancelling events, each campus is handling things differently, and many things may have changed between the time I wrote this and when you read it. It's likely things have pivoted numerous times on your campus, as well as my own. At all times, we must be creative in how we engage students in campus life, but we must also maintain the principles and competencies on which our work is founded as we weather the current crisis. Yes, creativity is key and I know the campus and NACA associate member partners to whom we can turn to for help will be here to assist us as we make difficult decisions. Because those of us working on campuses are also advisors and mentors constantly building relationships with students, we are a significant resource for students experiencing emotional stress. We all must proactively reach out to students, even if this means connecting virtually rather than in person. As always, we must continue to be knowledgeable of the programs and support services being offered by our universities, advocating for our students when they experience adversity.
While you are doing everything you can to serve your students, please be sure to take care of yourself and your families, but not over-extending yourself in the process. You are capable of only so much and if you don't take care of yourself, you will be no good to anyone else.
Joe Lizza is the director of the Student Center & Campus Activities at Rowan University (NJ) and a member of the NACA Foundation Board of Trustees.
Lizza, J. Emergency Preparedness for Campus Activities
NACA Mid-Atlantic Conference, October 2017 & NACA Northeast Conference, November 2017
Lizza, J. Train the Trainer: Emergency Planning & Response for Campus Activities
NACA, Summer 2017 Webinar Series
Available in Campus Activities Programming®
Lizza, J. (2014).
Core Steps in Collaborative Risk Management for Student Activities, Campus Activities Programming®, 46(8), 6-7.
Lizza, J. (2010).
Safety and Security at Student-Sponsored Campus Events. Campus Activities Programming®, 42(3), 29-31.
Related Professional Competencies: Crisis Management, Relationship Development, Technology.