Sept. 28, 2021
Director of Student Life, St. John's College
We’re all a bit out of practice when it comes to creating connections. And maybe we never had a good hold on it in the first place. So, as we come back together we should be thinking about how we reconnect intentionally.
First, we should answer this question: What do we mean by “connect”? We email, we post, we plan virtual and in-person events, but so often, we don’t actually connect. We mistake
contact for connection. Connection is about shared vulnerability, shared values, shared goals and shared experiences.
We know that students who feel more connected are more likely to persist and thrive on campus and in your student club. As a college administrator, speaker and leader in campus community building, I’ve been partnering with professionals on college campuses for over a decade to provide the best programming in building connection. Here are the 3 most important ways I’ve seen students build meaningful connections this semester:
#1 Fostering Community
Nothing creates real connection like a sense of belonging within your community. Doing so can help alleviate anxiety and develop social and emotional skills amongst your peers. Thriving student clubs and organizations build community incredibly well. Here’s a tool that can help achieve this: Have one shared goal for your entire organization every semester or year. The goal is clear, big, achievable, and everyone knows their role in bringing it to fruition. Along the way, share the progress, celebrate the wins, and allow for reset… and don’t forget to share vulnerability in times of challenge. Develop clear support systems and watch your organization flourish!
#2 Owning the Abnormal.
It doesn’t help much to pretend everything is back to “normal”. Student leaders who own the abnormal create a safe space for other students to share and to know they’re not alone. It can be an instinct as a student leader to try and safeguard your organization. Instead, model healthy behaviors by letting your peers know that you are experiencing challenges as well. Doing so will not only encourage others to do the same in community, but will also allow for referrals and support systems to emerge. If you take this practice to heart, what you’ll find is that you’re able to prevent crisis and build community at the same time.
#3 Leveraging Technology.
For successful student leaders who are both harnessing the power of their organization as well as the extended student body, providing content and communication in multiple ways is the norm. This strategy can benefit students particularly in times stress or uncertainty. Remember to put in several reminders and make connections to what came before. If you’re promoting an event that hasn’t taken place in two years for example, remind them of how great the last event was! Target the platforms that you know work. Distribute this responsibility to several (if not all) members of your organization…it’s a big job! Right now, we are all needing several reminders of how things work and run. Use technology as a tool for access and consistent communication.
Note: while technology is an ally, we know it can also be exhausting, so be sure to monitor your own screen time as well!
Lastly, remember that building connection with others will likely be your greatest asset in any organization and beyond. If fact, when you look back on your student experience, I promise, it will be the connections you built that you remember the most. Because those connections will have led to relationships, friendships and partnerships that last a lifetime.
Cesar Cervantes currently serves as Director of Student Life at St. John’s College. He is also the former assistant dean at Colorado College and former dean at United World College USA. He received his BA at St. Mary’s University and his graduate degree at Southern Methodist University. He was a college athlete and is still a proud Kappa Sigma. Cesar is trained in stand-up and improv comedy, and travels the country helping colleges and individuals, maximize their full potential. For more information about Cesar and his signature programs, visit ForCollegeForLife.com/Cesar