What Faculty Bring to Move-In Day

By getting involved, faculty members directly work toward institutional goals like creating a positive learning environment and improving retention rates, argues Kirstin Kelley.

August 16, 2017
 
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Last week, Inside Higher Ed published an opinion article by Deborah Cohan about why faculty members shouldn’t help with move-in day or other similar campuswide nonacademic events on campus. While she is absolutely right that faculty members are expected to do a growing number of things outside the scope of what their jobs should require, and women professors -- particularly women professors of color -- take on a disproportionate amount of emotional labor to help their students, Cohan completely misses the point of these asks.

As a residence life professional at a small college, I am often involved with asking other departments and even faculty to lend a hand during particularly busy parts of the academic year. While it’s true that our small department really can use the extra help, we’re also asking because we know that involving members of the campus community seldom seen outside of the classroom has a positive impact on student success. It’s an opportunity for professors to relax a little bit and get to know their students on another level and for students to hear the entire college send the message that everyone here really cares about them as people.

The work student affairs professionals do on a college campus is profound and vital -- and it used to be very much the realm of the faculty. We are responsible for students’ health, safety and overall well-being. That means that we provide a wide range of services from community-building events (like welcome week or midnight breakfast celebrations) to emergency intervention in mental or physical health crises, not just “running a bed-and-breakfast.”

Although it might sometimes seem gimmicky or “easy,” the work we do is carefully thought out to ensure it will have the biggest, most positive impact on the campus community as a whole -- making faculty members’ lives much easier in the process by addressing conduct issues that arise and assessing potential threats to campus quickly and quietly. Each event and each interaction is intentionally designed to build a range of skills that will help students be more successful while in college and after graduation. When we ask for faculty members’ help, it’s because we genuinely believe they can play a role in helping develop those skills.

While we welcome faculty involvement during many campus events, move-in day is especially important because, for many of our students (and their parents), it’s their first impression of our community. By getting involved with move-in day, faculty directly work toward institutional goals like creating a positive learning environment and improving retention rates. For many students, move-in day is the only time prior to graduation that their parents will set foot on campus.

Leaving parents with the impression that faculty and staff are committed to a holistic sense of their child’s well-being will help ensure they are allies when, just a few short weeks later, students begin experiencing homesickness and doubt about their decision to attend our school. When parents believe the entire school -- especially the faculty -- have their child’s best interests at heart, they are more likely to actively help their children problem solve when inevitably students struggle in college, rather than deciding to transfer or take time off.

Cohan argues that pitching in during move-in day or various other campus events during the semester would undermine her in the classroom, but having been to my share of move-in days, I find it unlikely. The days when faculty and staff members help students move in are typically reserved for new students, who are gathering so much information and processing countless intense emotions that they are usually unable to recall any specific details from that day -- such as exactly who carried their minifridge up three flights of stairs. What they do remember is that some members of the community, faculty members as well high-level administrative staff and other students, were there to help them.

The power of feeling connected and cared for from day one should not be underestimated. Students are considerably more likely to feel they can reach out to professors during office hours and are less likely to transfer or drop out prior to graduation. By getting involved in campus life from day one, faculty members can help students feel comfortable seeking their support before their academic performance is dire.

Perhaps most important, the students most likely not to make it to graduation day at our institution or any other are those whom colleges are enthusiastically pursuing during recruitment efforts. They are students of color, low-income students and first-generation students, and while they bring a range of valuable perspectives and insights to our student body, they do have one thing in common: they need additional support. For those students in particular, higher education is still not fulfilling its promise to be a place where they can excel if only they are willing to put the effort into it.

Academe must actively work to send the message to these students that they do matter to our communities, and we are invested in them as people. Showing up to and participating in campus events is one small step toward ensuring they feel welcomed and at home.

Like the faculty members we sometimes work alongside, but too often do not, student affairs professionals strive to teach students healthy boundaries, how to navigate the world and how to be critical thinkers. We know that sometimes tasks need doing for which someone else would be a better choice, but don’t think for a moment that we didn’t carefully consider whether it was appropriate to ask for your participation. And if you need to set a boundary, feel free to say no or ask if there’s something else you could do instead.

We understand if helping with move-in day may not be for you, but when faculty do choose to get involved, it creates a vital sense that all members of the campus community are united in creating a healthy and intentional living and learning environment for our newest students. And it helps break down the boundaries that too often make higher education seem inaccessible to underrepresented learners.

Bio

Kirstin Kelley is a residence life professional at Green Mountain College in Vermont.

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