From the student resident assistants to the full-time professionals, campus housing staff prepare to meet growing student mental health challenges.
CEO, Association of College & University Housing Officers International
Not all safety threats facing college and university students can be stopped with smart locks or smoke detectors. Instead, campuses rely on education, awareness, and understanding to address today’s students’ mental health challenges, one of the prevailing areas of concern in higher education. Fortunately, campus housing programs are preparing staff and strengthening campus partnerships to meet this need.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was significant concern about student mental health. For many students, their arrival on campus and move into the residence hall is their first prolonged time away from home, their family, and childhood friends. They are faced with new academic expectations as well as their first taste of freedom. It can be a challenge in the best of times, but in the face of a pandemic the pressure mounts. A recent Active Minds survey showed 89% of college students are experiencing stress or anxiety as a result of the pandemic.
Campus housing staff and student leaders, particularly professional hall directors who live on campus and resident assistants, have been instrumental in helping students handle these concerns. Their training has prepared them to build community, navigate conflicts, and, when needed, perform crisis intervention and referrals. Now, an increased emphasis has been put on reducing the stigma around mental health care by initiating conversations and educating residents about available campus resources.
Housing departments are long-standing partners with campus counseling centers, working with them to offer educational programs that empower students to ask for assistance when needed, as well as recognize the signs if another student is struggling. As campuses have adjusted to the pandemic, their efforts have helped individual units to further break down silos and serve students more effectively. Rethinking these relationships has only strengthened this collaboration.
Campus residence halls are microcosms of society and vital elements of the college experience. Whether the issue is a pandemic, supporting a student as they expand their worldview, or mental health, its influence is felt within those walls. By understanding this responsibility, proactively working to form connections, and strengthening support mechanisms, campus housing departments are there to help students to remain safe and flourish.