Burning the candle at both ends, social isolation beyond class and heightened mental health concerns are a reality that many students know all too well. Seventy-five (75) percent of students have struggled with anxiety during college. What’s worse, mental health concerns continue to have a compounding effect on students of color and those from marginalized populations.1 But with a little input from a vibrant student body, there’s still time to prioritize wellbeing in your next course. We sat down with three university students who shared their non-academic challenges and offered clear takeaways on how educators can improve student success in the term ahead.
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Get students collaborating from day one
Students are less likely to feel alone if they know a classmate has their back. But forming these peer-to-peer connections can be a challenge. Adesuwa Ekhator, a junior student in the Nursing program at The University of Ottawa, is among the students who have never experienced in-person lectures due to the pandemic. Going forward, it’ll be especially important to help students like Ekhator connect with classmates during class. “First year came with a ton of group chats in my classes. But by second year, everyone found ‘their people.’ So for me, living away from home, being an only child and having to navigate a pandemic on my own really felt like I was thrown in the deep end,” Ekhator says.
Collaboration should extend beyond the walls of your classroom, which may turn classmates into friends. Montserrat Hernandez, a sophomore student in the Mechanical Engineering program at The University of Texas at El Paso, quickly realized that studying and homework time were a great opportunity to get her peers to break out of their shells. “Using Top Hat, we would review our assigned questions together and think about why we’re answering in a certain way. In such a large class, it was awesome to have a few students be part of a small community,” she says.
Keep an open line of communication with your students
Clearly laying out guidelines on your course format and expectations will help all students excel. Put to practice, this means over-communicating assignment due dates, late policies and attendance flexibility. The result? Those who are already overwhelmed with the demands of employment, health concerns and finances are more likely to stay afloat. Unia’sha O’Con, a junior student in the Dietetics program at The University of Houston, believes that empathy on the professor’s part can make for a more enjoyable learning experience. “Communication makes a big difference especially when you’re learning partially online and partially in person. Communication and understanding are both factors that directly correlate with student success,” she shares.
The flip side of communication is just as essential in the classroom. Forty-five (45) percent of students want their educators to, at the very least, consider accommodation requests.2 Get a better sense of where your students are at by regularly surveying them on what they want you to stop, start and continue doing. “The new term is an adjustment for students as much as professors. We just want clarity on expectations when it comes to assessments or exams, especially as many of us get used to in-person learning for the first time,” Ekhator advises.
Coordinate with your campus to spotlight mental health resources
Anxiety and depression concerns continue to run at an all-time high and with so many competing priorities, many students check out after the first week. The solution: guide students to both social and mental health supports early on. With the help of your teaching assistants, student union or student success center, try to promote a handful of social events at the start of each week for students to take advantage of. “There’s always bonding experiences offered on campus, like crochet night (which I’ll be attending). At my school, we’ve also got anonymous therapy and a hotline that is open 24/7. A lot of students can struggle at the start of the year and may not know about these resources,” Hernandez says.
Without realizing it, some of your campus resources may even boost student retention. “I have trouble staying consistent with my classes—especially trying to balance grades with a social life and extracurriculars. But joining a first-generation student program gave me a bit of direction and helped me stay on the right path,” shares O’Con. Supporting your students doesn’t have to be a solo undertaking. Encourage your teaching assistants, if applicable, to crowdsource a list of local mental health resources for students to use through the term. Or open up a discussion board for students to be part of the conversation. “One of my friends uses Good2Talk—an app that most people don’t know about. Good mental health resources are expensive and they’re truly a privilege to access. Help your students utilize the resources that are available at little or no cost,” Ekhator says.
→ Get tips and ideas to help students connect in our Back to Campus toolkit
- Ezarik, M. (2022, May 17). Professors’ Part in Maintaining Student Mental Health. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2022/05/17/seven-professor-actions-contribute-student-well-being-infographic
- Ezarik, M. (2022, May 20). Students Seek Stronger Connections With Professors but Rarely Take the Lead. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2022/05/20/survey-students-want-connections-professors-may-not-initiate-them