Today's Update: Wednesday, May 6

May 6, 2020

Dear Student Life Team, 

It’s sometimes hard to believe that I started here at Ohio State on January 6, 2020. That’s just a few short months ago, but given the warm reception you all gave me and how quickly I had to get up to speed given the university’s COVID-19 response, in some ways it feels like I have been here for four YEARS rather than four months. And I mean that in a good way. I feel right at home here in Columbus (and would feel the same way on campus if I could go there!) So many people feel like old friends, and the work here feels so familiar and right.  

One of the commitments I made to you early in my tenure – I’m pretty sure I talked about it on my first day and in all the welcome receptions – was to hold a series of listening sessions with staff from across Student Life. The goal was to get to know you, hear all about your ideas and what you love about our team and simply provide an opportunity for you to share all the things you think I should know.  

Twenty sessions later, I can tell you: you did not disappoint. I continue to be impressed and thankful for the attendees who came to sessions and the time that so many took to complete the online, anonymous survey. Not only did so many of you show up, but you did so in a way that let me know you were engaged and eager to talk, excited to help make Student Life the best it can be. (Special note: We were in the process of planning similar sessions for students and had to delay due to COVID-19. I am very eager to get those back up and running as soon as we can.) 

Just like my first day here, now the listening sessions seem so long ago, and our day-to-day focus and concerns are much different, I still want to share some the themes from the sessions and highlight how we have been able to make progress even in COVID-19 response mode: 

  • Students First: Our team is super-proud to be a part of the Student Life family, particularly as it relates to the care and dedication we have for our student-driven mission. What this can also lead to is a tendency to take such good care of students, that we forget to take care of ourselves, so we have some opportunities in the areas of wellness and self-care. To that end, I know a lot of departments have been emphasizing self-care over the past weeks to ensure that, as our schedules and lives have been disrupted, we still take time to center ourselves. I know our Health and Wellness Community of Practice is collecting ideas for wellness in a virtual world. I have tried to carry this message in my daily updates, and I encourage you all to document ideas that are working for you, so we can make even more progress when we are all together on campus again. 
  •  Flexibility and Work-Life Harmony: Along the same lines as above, I heard from many team members that the 24/7 life of the student affairs staffer doesn’t always give ample opportunity to fully enjoy and embrace a life outside of work or to take advantage of flexibility in our workday/week. Admittedly, the student affairs field has not been as advanced in this area as others, and the ironic thing is that in the past few weeks, we have been literally forced into figuring telework out...on the double! While we will always have jobs that require folks to work on-campus in an essential capacity, I think the current situation shows us that fruitfully working remotely IS possible. It is also true that our on-campus needs for 100% virtual instruction look very different to semesters when students are fully on campus, so I am sure we all agree that a mix of on-campus and remote work is something we will need to figure out. Now we just need to figure out our “next normal” when COVID-19 subsides. We won’t go back to doing things the way we’ve always done them – and I think that will be a testament to how the pandemic challenged us to think and ‘do’ differently. 
  • Communication, Consistency and Transparency:  With my background in communications, I’m a big believer that you’re never “finished” getting better with communications. It wasn’t a surprise to me that a theme of our listening sessions is that our team has a desire for more information and more background on how – and why – decisions are made. Feedback also suggested that many appreciate the value of Student Life’s “big” operation and all that we do, but that sometimes being big can result in having different processes and procedures in various departments. In short, our team wants more communication and more consistency unit-to-unit, at least as much as is possible. I hope you’ve seen some strides in this over the past few weeks. As you know, because you’re reading one, I’ve been doing daily updates since very early in our COVID-19 response. You may also remember the Zoom session I held with several other Student Life colleagues on Friday, March 13, and I plan to share more information about more sessions soon. On the consistency end, I’ve asked our Student Life Strategy Community of Practice to spend some time thinking through what practices, processes and procedures we have throughout Student Life through which we might be able to create more consistency, things like onboarding structures and training schedules. This is a work in progress, and I’m excited to share updates with you in the future. 
  • Care, Connection and Collaboration: As I mentioned above, Student Life staff members are proud of the work they do, and that includes the group that other Student Life departments are doing. Feedback from the sessions shows that folks want to spend more time together, as a large Student Life team, or in cross-unit gatherings. They want to hear more about the work going on in other units and they want the opportunity to network and even contribute to the larger Student Life efforts. Again, it’s strange how things work out, because I feel like the past few weeks have given all of us an opportunity to contribute and do things in ways we never expected. Many of you pitched in for the unprecedented “physically distant” move-out process. We are working together across departments to coordinate and promote virtual programs and services. Some of you have pitched in to help raise funds for emergency grant offerings. Others have taken part in our Kindness calls to first-year and graduating students. I know this is only a start, but please know this feedback highlights Student Life’s deep commitment to our shared work, and I look forward to more progress to come.  

Once our situation normalizes a bit, we will look at other suggestions and ideas around staff development, training and retention as well as diversity, equity and inclusion.  In summary, I believe creating a culture of appreciation and connection will allow for us to engage in deeper and important conversations, for individuals to feel and know their value to Student Life and Ohio State, to provide more opportunities for staff to celebrate (High Five Fridays) and visit with one another (monthly “Care and Connection” all staff gatherings) and to create more trust and support (even in challenging times) because we know that our individual and collective efforts contribute to the overall success for our students. I can’t wait to continue this work with you.  

For now, though, I am very excited that we are able to put some of your good thoughts into action. And please, keep them coming. Because, after all, you are Scarlet and Great, and your ideas, are too. 

Melissa