A Student's Perspective: Gearing Communications for the Fall
A Student's Perspective: How Institutions Can Gear Their Communications for the Fall
My name is Haleigh Cadd, and I’m a rising senior at Wake Forest University. Wake is a small, liberal arts university in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Wake has a total undergraduate enrollment of about 5,220 students.
While no one has ever told me this, I thought that an in-person graduation resembled something of a human right. Thus, universities' communications for the fall can be challenging. This is especially true if many students feel this way about the future changes that COVID-19 has brought.
Thus, one of the strangest days of my academic career was when Wake released the announcement that spring break would be extended a week. It was so that faculty had time to design an online version of their courses when the campus would close. Three months later, the 2020 graduates watched a pre-recorded video of the Deans declaring their qualification for a degree from Wake Forest University–from their couches.
My mom and I watched it from our own living room. While I did not graduate this spring, I could empathize with the 2020 graduates. I, too, have lost hours of sleep for tests, research assignments, and essays. I’ve worked hard to get three years deep into this degree. With that said, a ceremony from my living room is not what I would expect to be rewarded with.
Be that as it may, I was confident that Wake had–or would have–a plan for the fall. I’ve always been confident that most students at any institution would be able to continue their academic career. I've also always believed that institutions would stop at little to nothing to reward students with this opportunity–pandemic or no pandemic.
Because the purpose of an educational institution is to empower students, is it not?
My university's communications for the fall
On June 12, Wake communications released a second email from President Hatch that basically served as the tentative playbook for how we would begin on-campus classes on August 26. Loose plans were set in place.
That’s all we, as undergraduate students, needed, really–a semi-guarantee that we could see each other again. That we could be released from our parents’ houses and pretend like we were full-fledged adults for another few months. Seniors would get to brace themselves for their last two semesters on campus.
My biggest concerns
Given the highly communicable nature of the coronavirus, my biggest concern is my living situation. Will students be in singles? How will that impact housing registration and housing groupings? Who will I be rooming with if I have a roommate?
Also, I have a part-time job on campus. This article might be the first time my boss has encountered my question of “will I have a job on campus?”, but I’m positive that he, himself, has been wrestling with that question for months. Maybe after this article is finished, I’ll shoot him a text.
I am indebted to an on-campus ministry organization called Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) for many things. RUF has given me some of the best roommates under the sun, as well some of my first friends. This organization also gave me an excuse to leave the library on Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. Now, I’m not sure what will make me leave my favorite eighth-floor library nook on Tuesday nights if RUF won't be allowed to gather.
I think these paragraphs boil down to some very basic questions. How normal will my college life look like? What will my institution's communications for the fall look like?
As a student, I appreciate an institution’s communications when they are...
Consistent and accurate
In total, as far as my University's communications for the fall go, I have gotten three COVID-contingency-plan-oriented emails from Wake. To my knowledge, all of these emails were correct. Meaning, these emails conveyed accurate information that was agreed upon by those in department chairs and in the President’s cabinet.
In other words, the information in all of these University communications was a byproduct of the staff, faculty, and administration being on the same page and–more or less–agreeing on the same plan. Each faculty member, department chair, and administrator was telling each student the same thing.
Meaning, the information across all University communications and from all University departments was consistent and, therefore, accurate.
Proactive when releasing information
As a student who has consciously told herself not to make multiple spreadsheets’ worth of contingency plans until it’s necessary, there is nothing I dread more than waiting for information. Especially since this information is what my contingency plans hinge on.
I am empathetic enough with University administration to accept that these decisions regarding my University's communications for the fall take time, energy, and a lot of red-tape-navigating. However, the sooner I receive the information, the better.
For instance, the sooner I get the information, the more willing I am to give up the idea of pursuing a fall internship opportunity instead of enrolling for classes in the fall. That is, until the universe can figure its life out.
As a student who has been informed of my University's plans, however, I know when school is starting. I also know that my school has plans in place for housing. This was announced on June 12. I know that this is the correct information because of the consistency of the information. I, thus, feel no need to take a semester off.
Transparent (to the best of my institution’s ability)
As accurate as a University's communications for the fall might be across the board, and as proactive it might be with releasing information, I am still a rising senior who is emotional about her final year going down the toilet–because it isn’t what I envisioned for my last year at my University.
However, I also consider myself a fairly well-informed individual who also understands why the University decided to make decisions the way they did. I see it, and I boast that I can understand it–but that doesn’t make me any less frustrated with the whole “up-in-the-air” aspect to this circumstance.
I think working in customer service on campus has taught me that there is more red tape in any given situation than meets the eye. What is more, is that the average person isn’t aware that the red tape exists–let alone sees it.
So, when a frustrated person–who doesn’t see the red tape–is told that they can’t get what they want because of this unseen red tape, I’ve seen time and time again that they become irritated with the person who drew their attention to the fact that the red tape exists.
In other words, I’m a senior who is cranky because she was told that her senior year wouldn’t look like a normal senior year. However, I also consider myself a fairly well-informed individual who understands why most higher ed institutions just can’t throw their hands up and say “Never mind–carry on!” in this circumstance. I am also a student worker who has worked in customer service on campus–and has had to tell people in the past that they can’t get ‘X’ because this red tape called ‘Y’ exists.
Explanation of the red tape
While it’s not always possible–nor a productive undertaking if you want to keep a student’s attention–to explain all of the red tape and show why your campus can’t do ‘Y,’ I, as a student, would at least appreciate a three-sentence overview of what the red tape is.
My guess is that most students–like me–won’t particularly like the fact that the red tape ‘X’ exists–but now I know why I can’t do ‘Y.’ As a result, I will more than likely be appreciative and accept the fact that an institution is, indeed, on my side.
In other words, the more transparency a University's communications for the fall shows, the more a student will understand. As a result, they might become less frustrated with the situation if an institution tells them why they made that decision.
Concise and to the point–I’m a busy student
The burden that all institutional communications carry is holding students’ attention. Since transparency is one of the names of the game here, I’ll be transparent: I look for the bolded text in my professors’ emails.
In fact, I usually read university communications when I’m walking to and from destinations on campus. It's during these times that I tend to skim emails that don't have either bolded text or bullet points. Thus, that’s what I think the beauty of text messaging is–it sends important messages to students like me who primarily read University communications on campus walks.
A student’s final thoughts on university communications for the fall
In summary, as said above, I am a busy student; however, there is no doubt in my mind that staff and faculty at academic institutions are at least 70% busier than I am. For instance, I am not coordinating multiple students and guiding them around multiple lines of red tape during this pandemic. I’m just focusing on enrolling in classes so that I can graduate on time!
Therefore, it seems that the key to students and administrators successfully working together to navigate this unique circumstance is communication. From my perspective, a University's communications for the fall are best when they are accurate, proactive, transparent, and concise.
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