SIP 11.6 The Unwritten Rules of College: Facing Social and Emotional Challenges

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Last week, the SIPsquad talked about “the unwritten academic rules of college” and how we can support students as they learn to navigate the complicated systems of higher education. This week, we would like to focus on the social and emotional challenges that students face during their college years.

For all students, college is a vastly different world from high school, and acclimation can take an emotional toll. Students at Metropolitan State University of Denver may face even more challenges than traditional first-time-to-college students – they may be first-generation, students of color, older than average college students, parents, full-time employees, etc. Academics are foundational, of course, but students also need support with the social and emotional implications of surviving and thriving in higher education.

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Here are a few aspects of students’ social and emotional health to consider:

  • Making connections and finding a “squad” on campus is possibly the biggest and most important challenge that our students face. Especially on a commuter campus such as ours, identifying a support group of friends, faculty and student-services providers is essential. The Peer Mentoring Program connects with students from Day One of their orientation session, but MSU Denver faculty and staff can also make an impact by creating personal relationships with students and being there for them. Faculty can create community among students by setting aside class time to let students introduce themselves to one another, setting up “study buddies” or structuring group work to allow for relationship-building. SIP 1.3 on “Classroom Climate” and SIP 2.1 on “Ice Breakers” can get you started. SIP 5.10, “Easy NFL Grouping,” offers fun suggestions for how to create community through group work in class.
  • It has been noted that, nationally, levels of anxiety and depression among students are at an all-time high. Many students are similarly impacted by eating disorders or other debilitating conditions that impact their ability to do well in school. Expressing concern for students’ mental health should not be taboo – on the contrary, it should be front and center as we care for students. The Counseling Center and Access Center are two resources that can help with this.
  • You may find that your students struggle with food or housing insecurity. Destigmatize these situations by providing information on the Roadrunner Food Pantry and other campus resources to all of your students. Understand that these situations directly impact students’ ability to perform in class and provide opportunities for personalization of your curriculum. Read “ SIP 8.3 , “Responding to food insecurity and poverty in the college classroom,” to learn more.
  • Encourage students to practice self-care and model it yourself. Do not perpetuate the “cult of who works the hardest and gets the least sleep”; design your course to support students as they make time for physical and emotional maintenance. See SIP 6.15 for some tips on how to do this. The MSU Denver Healthy Pursuits Program offers fun ways for students, faculty and staff to practice self-care on and off campus.
  • Design your course so that it overtly bridges the academic and the co-curricular. Bring your class to an on-campus event, offer extra credit to students who extend learning beyond the classroom, and demonstrate the value of a well-rounded academic experience by integrating some fun into college. SIP 4.6 offers some good advice on student engagement.
  • If you are at all concerned about the well-being of your students, for whatever reason, take a moment to file a CARE Report with the Office of the Dean of Students. Their trained professional staff will provide the appropriate outreach and take the necessary steps to individually support students.

As you think about these “unwritten rules,” take note of the many ways in which faculty, staff and administrators perpetuate these roadblocks and institutionalize navigational challenges. If you are working hard to directly remove barriers for your students, take steps in your department or in your role to effectively obliterate these complications and foster future students’ success.

Still thirsty? Take another SIP of the unwritten rules of college: facing social and emotional challenges

The Unwritten Rules of College. Chronicle of Higher Ed.

When Unwritten Rules Change. Inside Higher Ed.

Social-Emotional Learning is the Rage in K-12. So Why Not in College? Ed Surge.

Sixty-two percent of MSU Denver students reported experiencing housing disruption in 2018. Check out this Early Bird story to learn more: “Housing in Denver: then, now and ahead.”

And here are quick links to several on-campus resources that can help you support your students:

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