NACA BLOG - Cultivating Community (in Social Isolation) - 3/27/2020
Tough Calls

March 27, 2020
Dr. Sarah Keeling
Director of Education & Research

The National Association for Campus Activities has three sets of competencies: the Student Leadership Competencies, the Competencies for Campus Activities Professionals and the Competencies for Diversity and Inclusion. One of my goals as NACA’s director of Education & Research is to integrate these competencies throughout the organization. I want our members to be able to articulate the skills they will learn and utilize by being an active part of the Association.

Competencies are important because they help define a profession. They indicate what skills or knowledge are needed for someone who works in a particular profession. They also serve as a guide to help develop professional and personal growth. The NACA Education & Research department has been working with competencies and learning outcomes recently and I’ll tell you more about those soon. Right now, though, there are more pressing matters.

In light of the current situation with COVID-19, I want to focus on a particular competency for professionals. How do we cultivate a sense of belonging from afar? It’s possible that many professionals will be working from home for the rest of the semester while still working to engage students who are also scattered away from campus.   

Though it may seem counterintuitive, in order to help build community we must spend time focused on ourselves. “Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings, or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior” (Brown, 2018, p. 70). One way to do this, according to Brown, is to model and encourage empathy and self-compassion. When we are stressed, we may be more likely to make mistakes or forget things. Remember to give yourself some grace and kindness, as you would your students. Vulnerability is also important. I think sharing your fears and concerns with your students helps them see they aren’t alone. You can at least share with them how weird it is to work from home and some of the challenges you’re facing. If you’re able to care for yourself, you’ll be able to be more creative.

Now, perhaps more than ever, is the time to get creative. You’re used to providing events for your students and you still can!

  • Curate a list of activities students can do when they have time. 
  • Reach out to students to ask them what types of activities they may enjoy. 
  • Search NACA® 24/7 for performers that may offer virtual or online acts. 
  • Visit museum digital collections, watch Instagram concerts and online craft tutorials, etc. 
  • Try to keep to your normal schedule as much as possible. This will help maintain a sense of normalcy and may help you and your students manage anxiety. 
  • Use online tools like Zoom or Google Hangouts to continue to hold meetings virtually. 
  • Offer virtual office hours so students can “drop in” and talk to you like they do in person. 
  • Consider holding virtual meetups, where students can connect with each other, but do keep in mind accessibility issues as you connect to students. 
  • Continue your social media presence. 
  • Share articles, podcasts, and videos you find helpful. 
  • Participate in NACA’s “Coffee & Conversations” virtual calls to feel connected to your peers and professional home.

If anything, campus activities professionals are creative and resilient. You will create dynamic ways to connect to your students and connect them to each other. You will persevere during the current pandemic and emerge stronger. NACA is here to help you through this journey and beyond. Be safe, stay well, and wash your hands.

Sarah Keeling, Ph.D. serves as director of Education & Research for the National Association for Campus Activities and has over 20 years of higher education experience. Her dissertation, "The Influence of the CAS Standards on Academic Advising Programs that Utilize the Standards," received the Southern Association for College Student Affairs’ Dissertation of the Year award.


DOMAIN: Campus Culture and Community Building 

COMPETENCY: Cultivating a sense of belonging 

  • Provide and promote a wide range of involvement opportunities 
  • Build community on campus through programs and services 
  • Cultivate relationships with students 
  • Create and promote a sense of connection to the institution 
  • Assess needs of students from multiple perspectives, identities and populations and ensure campus involvement opportunities are relevant and inclusive 
  • Utilize NACA® Competencies for Diversity and Inclusion, as well as other resources, to develop, provide and advocate for programs and services that cultivate a sense of belonging for all students

Brown, B. (2018). Dare to lead. Random House.

Related Professional Competencies: Cultivating a sense of belonging.

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