April 13, 2020
Jillian Van Auken
University of Dayton (OH)
One piece of advice I was given when I started my career in campus activities was, “Plan for the unexpected and always have a plan B, C and D. Well friends, I think we are on Plan J. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind trying to keep up with the latest updates regarding COVID-19. In January, when spring semester started, it never crossed my mind that come March, I would be cancelling and postponing events and working from home, or that students would not be returning to campus until August. My crisis management skills, ability to be resilient and roll with the punches have been stretched to the extreme.
As I reflect on this time, three words come to mind: connection, communication and creativity.
“Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives ” (Brene Brown). Campus Activities provides students a sense of belonging and connection on campus through involvement in student organizations and campus-wide events and by providing students a place to be in community with their peers. COVID-19 has made our ability to connect challenging and has forced us to find non-traditional ways to maintain a sense of community from a distance. Campus activities is built on in-person interactions. COVID-19 has deleted the rule book and forced us to adapt our events and interactions to the virtual world.
When the unexpected happens, it is important to stay calm, assess the situation and the resources available to you to come up with a solution as quickly as possible. During this unprecedented time, it is essential that we campus activities professionals stay calm and find ways to keep things as normally as possible.
- Check in with your students and maintain scheduled meetings online.
- Engage students through social media.
- Plan virtual events.
- Encourage self-care and focus on the positive.
- Take things one day at a time.
- Focus on what you can do – not on what you can’t do.
“Good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity” (Nat Turner). In Campus Activities we encourage students to be proactive and plan ahead. COVID-19 has forced us to be reactive, flipping our usual approach on its head. During this time of constant change and confusion, it’s important we maintain regular communication with students and reassure them we are available to talk, listen or help them process the circumstances in which they currently find themselves in. One of the ways many campuses are bridging the gap between confusion and clarity is by hosting virtual office hours, providing a way for students to “drop in” to ask questions or receive guidance on how to navigate a virtual campus. We must communicate to students that, while our physical office is closed, we are still available to provide support and guidance, just from a distance. In my interactions with students since our campus became virtual, I have found that students often just want someone to talk to and reassurance that we are all in this together.
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can” (Arthur Ashe). This quote illustrates the current environment in which we are working in Campus Activities. When the concept of virtual programming was introduced, I’ll be honest: my reaction was, “How on earth are we going to engage students virtually?” But with a little creativity, brainstorming and breathing, I worked with my Campus Activities Board and Late Night student employees to come up with a two-fold plan:
- To provide consistent engagement with our followers through social media, and
- To share free events and opportunities with students and try our hand at hosting virtual events.
The Campus Activities Board decided to do themed days on social media – Movie Monday, Tunes Tuesday, Wellness Wednesday, Thankful Thursday and Foodie Friday. In addition, the program board is going to host a trivia night and the Late Night student employees will host bingo and a Netflix party.
My advice to you, fellow campus activities professionals, is to stay calm, focus on the positive, and when something goes wrong, yell “Plot twist!”
Jillian Van Auken is assistant director for Student Life at the University of Dayton (OH). She has served NACA® Mid America in various capacities, most recently as the 2019 Volunteer Development Coordinator. She received the Outstanding Professional Staff Award at the 2019 NACA® Mid America Regional Conference and is the region’s 2020 Conference Chair.
Related Professional Competencies: Cultivating a Sense of Belonging, Crisis Management