NACA BLOG - Engaging and Maintaining Community in This Time of Social Distancing - 4/1/2020

NACA Board and executive director

April 1, 2020
Nathan Hofer
The Lost&Found Association (SD)

​Let’s face facts; the world created by COVID-19 is an eerie and insecure one. However, our basic human needs have not changed. We long for relationships, we crave opportunities for engagement, and we all want to be recognized as individuals by others in our communities. I hope, with that in mind, we can find ways to move forward confidently because I believe, for the most part, we’ve met each other’s needs for engagement and community for years. It’s just our delivery method that needs to change in this time of social distancing.

Engaging students online isn’t just the best option for us at the moment, it’s the only option. But just because we’re moving online doesn’t mean our focus has changed. Even in this time of crisis, we need to think of the values we want our organizations to represent and bring them to the forefront. This means we create and share all content with that intention.

Now the big question: just how do we engage with students online? In my own case, I’m looking at creating transparency and spaces for interaction first. I think it’s important to give people a glimpse of my life, showing them how my family and I are handling things, and use that as a place to provide support through authenticity. As uncomfortable as it makes me, I know I must do this via video because it’s currently the best way possible to simulate normal social interaction.

I’m also finding it to be incredibly important to create live offerings whenever possible. Videos for fitness classes, meditation, etc. have been around for years, and while they are incredibly powerful tools, I think they miss the mark in creating an active and engaged community. Hosting an event on Facebook Live, Zoom, WebEx, or Google Meet provides opportunities for your participants to see other people and read their nonverbal cues, which brings much more power to the connection than simply sharing a video.

However, you don’t necessarily need to be the creator of live activity. Throughout the country now, we have hundreds of thousands of people offering live presentations in new and exciting ways (usually for free), whether those presentations are fitness classes, leadership webinars or interactive Bingo. Those things are already occurring and you can share these resources with your audiences if they align with your mission.

In looking at engagement, our organization, The Lost&Found Association, is working across multiple platforms to engage with students to support their mental health during this time of isolation. Platforms I’ve been using to engage students are Zoom, Google Meet, Facebook Live, Instagram/Instagram TV, Slack, and Facebook Groups. Within these platforms, we’re able to share a subset of other items such as a Kahoot trivia game night, hold meetings, or simply to interact with other human beings. Connections are especially crucial now and we should commit the extra time and resources to make those connections happen, even if it they aren’t in person.

If you are looking for more ideas or want to engage with students around mental health, please reach out to me at nhofer@lafprevention.org. There is much more I’m willing to share with you on this topic.

As we strive to reach the end of the pandemic, let’s remember everyone is in this together and our communities have never been more united. Reach out if you are in need and encourage your students to do the same. Please stay safe and healthy, and I hope to hear from many of you soon!

Nathan Hofer is director of Campus Operations at The Lost&Found Association, a non-profit affiliate member of NACA that is dedicated to helping students discover lifelong resilience and improving campus mental health. He previously served as director of Student Activities and Engagement at the University of Sioux Falls (SD). He also chaired the 2019 NACA® Northern Plains Regional Conference Program Committee, held other volunteer positions, and has written a number of articles for Campus Activities Programming®.



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