Serving students who are experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, and financial crisis

I recently presented the workshop “Serving students who are experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, and financial crisis”  at the California College Personnel Association’s Annual Institute. There were many participants (standing room only), which reflects the increased interest in these topics among student affairs professionals. Many of us are looking for models, methods, and best practices to serve our most vulnerable students.

Background

The research supports that college students face major financial challenges. Food insecurity is common among college students, and food insecure students are often housing insecure. Food and housing insecurity negatively affects students’ education. Students who are struggling to meet basic needs experience more stress, frequently work more which results in greater part-time enrollment, experience lower GPAs, and often extend their expected date of graduation.

According to the UC Global Food Initiative survey, 19 percent of UC students indicated they had “very low” food security, which the USDA defines as experiencing reduced food intake at times due to limited resources. An additional 23 percent were characterized as having “low” food security, defined by the USDA as reduced quality, variety or desirability of diet, with little or no indication of reduced food intake.

College and University Food Bank Alliance report states drew on a survey of almost 3,800 students at 34 community and 4-year colleges across 12 states – the broadest sample to date – the authors found that 22 percent of respondents have the very lowest levels of food insecurity, and 13 percent of students at community colleges are homeless.

Models/Ideas

An increasing number of campuses have the following types of services:

  • CalFresh Outreach coordinators who work with local Department Social Services to enroll students by prequalifying students on campus
  • Emergency grants for students with unexpected expenses which could negatively impact their academics, such as medical bills and car repairs
  • Emergency housing, which could include on campus options and/or hotel vouchers
  • Meal vouchers/cards, veggie bucks, or other dollars that can be used to get food on campus
  • Dining app that tells students when leftover food is available at campus events
  • Food pantry, as well as pop-up food pantries and food “shelves,” often includes toilettries
  • EBT card readers on campus to allow students to use CalFresh benefits
  • Food Bank distribution on campus

Best Practices

Every institution has unique needs, strengths, and weaknesses. One of the challenges of implementing these programs is determining which best meet the needs of the students in your institution AND align with the resources available. Here are some best practices that can be applied to any institution:

  • Share resources – A great place to start is by joining the College and University Food Bank Alliance (http://www.cufba.org)
  • Document need – Whether you have existing services or nothing in place, you can being by surveying students, conducing focus groups, and gathering institutional data, to determine what students need and want
  • Partner with local agencies – every campus has different town-gown relationships, but nature partners include faith-based organizations, the Food Bank, local non-profits, and Department of Social Services
  • Identify engaged faculty – faculty are often interested in grants, research, and service-learning. Find ways to incorporate these into your basic needs programs and services. Reach out to various departments which may have overlapping interests, such as nutrition and sociology
  • Create a working group – stakeholders may include student leaders, Financial Aid, Dean of Students, Campus Health and Well-Being, Athletics, Campus Dining, and Housing

Resources

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Why Diversity Matters

Diversity is a representation of racial and ethnic identity, age, cultural identity, religious and spiritual identity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, physical and mental ability, nationality, social and economic status, and political and ideological perspectives.* Diversity in higher education is important in order for our institutions to reflect our changing demographics, to increase access to higher education for greater numbers of students, and to prepare all students to contribute to a global society. However, the highest purpose of diversity in our institutions is related to our civic mission.

The civic mission of higher education speaks to the content in the curricular and co-curricular experience that challenges students to think about their role and responsibilities in society. Historically, education was seen as the key to creating the informed citizenry required for active democracy. Institutions were founded in part with a civic focus to cultivate future leaders to be civically engaged citizens.  Presently, diversity, namely interactions among different groups, is essential to fostering the academic and social growth necessary to promote civic engagement.

Research supports that diversity creates the best possible learning conditions for all students – majority and minority students. Diversity creates conditions critical to identity construction and cognitive growth  which are essential to achieving educational and civic outcomes. The success of our communities and country depends on citizens who can engage in civic innovation, address issues of public concern, and promote the quality of life in our communities through political and nonpolitical processes.

The link between diversity and learning outcomes is well-established. Research shows that students who experienced the most racial and ethnic diversity in classroom settings and in informal interactions with peers showed the greatest engagement in active thinking processes, growth in intellectual engagement and motivation, and growth in intellectual and academic skills. Research also supports that students educated in diverse classrooms learn to think in deeper and more complex ways, and are better prepared to become active participants in a pluralistic, democratic society (Gurin, Day, Hurtado, and Gurin, 2001).

Diversity improves the learning experience and contributes to the central goals of the university. However, students must have meaningful intergroup interactions. An increase in diversity may improve the probability that these interactions will occur, but this is not enough to create a significant difference in a student’s learning experience. In order to see significant benefits from diversity, there must be an increased quality and quantity of intergroup interactions.

College is a time and place for students to explore their identities as well as their relationship to the sociopolitical world. When students enter into diverse environments, they can either attempt to retreat to the familiar or seek new information. By seeking new information, they enter a state of disequilibrium – a temporary state where one must either develop a new schema or modify an existing schema. Developmental theorists explain that creating disequilibrium is key to promoting cognitive growth. Situations that create disequilibrium can include encounters with people who are unfamiliar to them or people who challenge them to act or think in new ways. Navigating these situations increases one’s sense of identity and their understanding of the social world.

As an educator, I have witnessed the cognitive changes that occur when students experience interactions with people who have had different life experiences and when students are confronted with the limitation of their point of view. In these interactions, they must do difficult cognitive and emotional work to understand how other people think and feel. These experiences encouraged critical thinking, helped students learn to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds, and prepared students to become good citizens in an increasingly complex, pluralistic society.

In 2006, I founded the Alternative Breaks program at Cal Poly, which has taken students to New Orleans, New York, Jamaica, and United Arab Emirates. I witnessed these students transformed by their experiences doing service in communities different from their own. The differences in culture, language, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and more, created opportunities for reflection and cognitive growth that changed these students in short periods.

Now, more than ever, universities must prepare students to contribute to society. Students need an understanding of diversity and social responsibility to be knowledgeable and ethical leaders. For these reasons and more, it is important to cultivate a campus community that represents and celebrates diversity. We need reflective spaces, intentional interactions, and formal and informal opportunities for students to engage in frequent, high-quality intergroup interactions.

* adapted from Standards of Professional Practice for Chief Diversity Officers.

Gurin, P., Dey, E., Hurtado, S., & Gurin, G.  (2002) Diversity and Higher Education: Theory and Impact on Educational Outcomes, Harvard Educational Review, 72 (3), 330-366.

8 Steps for Leading Organizations

Fire

An effective leader needs to have fire – a passion, light, and ability to create change. Fire can transform, comfort, and make way for new life. Yet, too much fire can destroy and decimate our communities, structures, and assets. In order to understand how leaders can manage their own fire, I have applied the fire management practices below to leading organizations.

(Adapted from the Standard Firefighting Orders of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.*)

1. Keep informed on fire weather conditions and forecasts. Know what is going on around campus – campus climate – and in the larger field of higher education. Read campus and higher education publications, attend campus programs and conferences, and follow social media to understand the current conditions.

2. Know what your fire is doing at all times. Success in campus leadership requires an accurate assessment of the current situation. Lack of knowledge and information leaves leaders vulnerable and unprepared to respond. You may create unintended consequences if your fire starts burning out of control.

3. Base all actions on current and expected behavior of the fire. A leader must be able to interpret the existing conditions and predict changes based on reliable indicators.

4. Identify escape routes and safety zones, and make them known. Have a backup plan in the event that your fire takes an unpredicted direction. A contingency plan will be necessary if you are met with resistance or lack of resources.

5. Post lookouts when there is possible danger. Surround yourself with trusted advisors. Ask others to help you identify red flags, danger zones, and threats.

6. Be alert. Keep calm. Think clearly. Act decisively. Risk-taking, living passionately, and being a change agent can be exhilarating and scary. Stay calm and clear-headed. Your team will feel your confidence and take your lead.

7. Maintain prompt communication with your forces, your supervisor, and adjoining forces. Leadership is not just about providing direction, it requires two-way communication. Communicate and listen to those around you. Be prepared to change directions and use new information to correct your course.

8. Give clear instructions and be sure they are understood. Again, communication is crucial. Once you have assessed the conditions and identified threats, provide a clear direction for your team. Check for understand and answer questions. Create opportunities for your team to ask for clarification and encourage people to summarize what they think you said.

 

* Thanks to my partner Aaron for sharing his firefighting resources!

 

3 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationships and Grow Your Influence

Handshake

Last week, there was an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education written by two seasoned college presidents. In the article, both presidents highlighted the critical role of relationships, which reminded me of this previous post on the importance of relationships. For presidents, relationships are crucial to being an influencer.

The president is often seen as the most influential person on a campus. However, we all have influence. Whether we have positional power or are trying to influence someone in a higher position. All members of the campus community can be influencers.

Some people we can influence through relationship are donors, supervisors, and peers.

How do we improve our ability to influence through relationships?

1. Our presence. Our ability to influence is affected by how others perceive us. How do others see you? What qualities do others admire about you? These qualities may not be the same characteristics that we see as our strengths. For example, you may believe that others most admire you for your expertise and experience, but they may actually love your sense of humor the most!

2. Service. When we think about donors, we may focus on what they can provide us. But when we ask what we can give them, we may be surprised that we have a lot more to offer – opportunities to reconnect with faculty and alumni, recognition at campus events, or networking opportunities. When we serve others, we are proactively building our relationship with them.

3. Shared interests. One of my favorite quotes is “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” When we impose our influence through rules and positional power, we take away other people’s dignity. When people share an interest, the shared solutions can be greater than one person’s alone.

5 Questions to Help Make Tough Decisions

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That’s me standing on the Porch of Indecision

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

As Student Affairs professionals, we are often faced with some tough personal and professional decisions. In my career, I have had to decide whether to pick up part-time teaching work, when was the best time to start my family, would I consider relocating for career advancement, was I ready to get my PhD, should I accept a time-consuming volunteer role, and should I take on my family’s business. I firmly believe  we cannot be satisfied with someone else’s answer to these tough questions – we must make these decisions on our own.

Friends and family can offer advice, but the best thing they can do is ask you the right questions. A big decision can feel…well, BIG. But like a big goal, it can be more easily achieved by breaking it down into smaller pieces.

Here are 5 questions that can help to make tough decisions:

1. What would you do if you couldn’t fail?

Fear of failure often keeps us paralyzed. It prevents us from maximizing our full potential and fully exercising our strengths. When I was considering a Ph.D. program, the fear of failure was my biggest limitation. I have come to accept and embrace failure as an essential part of learning. Often our failures are not as irreversible or detrimental as we make them out to be in our minds.

“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” – Tony Robbins

2. How does this decision fit into your greater purpose?

Indecisiveness or resistance to making a decision can often be rooted in an underlying value or belief. When a choice seems logical and clear, yet we are still resistant, there may be some deeper inner conflict going on. When my mom approached me about being more involved in our family business, I wanted to honor her and was attracted to the earning potential of a career in real estate; however,  real estate was not my calling. There were aspects that I would have enjoyed, and I could probably have been successful, but my passion is working in education with students.

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” – Steve Jobs

3. Is this the right time?

Some decisions seem crystal clear, except for the timing. One of my toughest decisions was declining the invitation to be the volunteer coordinator for my friend’s mayoral campaign. I wanted to do it, it felt aligned with my greater purpose,  and it was a great match for my skill set, but the timing was terrible. I was a full-time working mom, struggling in my relationship, and had several other commitments. On the other hand, there isn’t always a perfect time. Timing is an important factor, but it’s not the only factor. When an opportunity arises, you may not feel fully prepared but it may be the time to take a risk.

“You can do anything but not everything.” – David Allen

4. How will you feel after you have made this decision?

Visualizing the outcome of the two or more scenarios when trying to make a decision can help us tap into our “gut” reaction. The power of intuition is discussed in a lot of decision-making research, including Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. According to Gladwell, the more expertise you have on a topic, the more likely your gut will predict the most accurate outcome.

“There will be a few times in your life when all your instincts will tell you to do something, something that defies logic, upsets your plans, and may seem crazy to others. When that happens, you do it.” – Judith McNaught

5. What role does your ego play in this decision?

Fear, anxiety, expectation, regret, guilt, and anger are the manifestations of the ego. Ego causes us to compare ourselves to others. Ego takes everything personally. It wants to be right. It needs to feel superior. And, it can lead us to make poor decisions. When we make a decision because we want what someone else has, or we think something will make us happy, the ego is in control.

“You create a good future by creating a good present.” – Eckhart Tolle

 

 

 

 

5 Ways to Treat Students Like Family

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Giving my daughter cheap advice at the Live Oak Music Festival

When I look into the eyes of my students, I often imagine my six-year-old daughter sitting on the other side of the desk in eleven years. It’s unlikely that she will be sitting  across from me, but she may be sitting in another office somewhere. What will bring her to the dean’s office? What experience do I want her to have? What advice will she get?

My daughter is just entering the public school system. She will be completing first grade in a few months. She loves school and is an avid reader, but last week she received a behavior ticket. I won’t say what it was for, because years from now when she runs for presidency I don’t want her campaign tarnished by her mom’s blog post that disclosed she threw applesauce down the slide and soiled another girl’s clothes (oops! there I said it!), but it has me thinking about behavior and choices.

Personally, I’m hoping my daughter makes all her mistakes in first grade, and it’s smooth sailing from here into adulthood. But since I realize that’s likely not going to be the case, I’m embracing these incidents for what they are…teachable moments. I also realize I will not always be around to clean up the metaphorical applesauce and, as a mom, I hope that there will be caring adults throughout my daughter’s life who will also help her navigate through the messy, sticky situations that come up.

Whether it’s a mistake, a personal challenge, an academic setback, or another life event that  brings someone else’s child to my office, I try to treat all students with the respect, compassion, and attention I would provide to my own daughter in these five ways:

1. See their potential. Students who have been admitted to the university have already demonstrated they have great potential. Students also each possess unique strengths they can draw upon during challenging times. Looking for strengths and encouraging students to envision what is possible demonstrates our belief in them.

2. Believe them. It takes courage for students to share their stories. When we listen and validate their feelings, emotions, and concerns, students can ask for what they need and tell us how to best support them.

3. Give accurate information. Myths, out-dated information, and misunderstood policies can create stress and confusion for students. Empowered with information, students can make educated and appropriate decisions.

4. Advocate. Advocacy can take many forms. It can be connecting students to resources, speaking up for underrepresented students, creating a safe environment for students to express themselves, or educating ourselves on critical issues  in order to contribute to positive change.

5. Offer unconditional positive regard. Psychologist Carl Rogers developed the term unconditional positive regard, which means showing complete support and acceptance of a person. By showing students our acceptance and setting aside our judgment, we create a safe space for students to take risks, explore their possibilities, and maximize their full potential.

5 Facts about Student Veterans

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Today Cal Poly will be celebrating the opening of the Veterans Success Center. This solidifies a significant relationship between the university and its student veterans. The relationship between higher education and the military dates back to the enactment of the GI Bill after World War II. Over 2,232,000 World War II veterans used the GI Bill to go to college during the 1940s and 1950s (Livingston, Havice, Cawthon, & Fleming, 2011).

Here are 5 more facts about student veterans and higher education (Vacchi, 2012):

1. More student veterans will be enrolling in institutions of higher education than since WW II.

2. The new GI Bill offers the best educational benefits for veterans in the history of our nation.

3. Student veterans have greater classroom performance, higher retention rates, and more successful transfer rates from community colleges to four-year institutions than their nonveteran peers.

4. There are currently over 800,000 student veterans attending college.

5. Over 90 percent of student veterans are former enlisted members, not officers.

Military culture is much different from the culture of a college campus. When surveyed, student veterans say that military service has matured them, allowed them to see the world in a different light, and exacerbated the age gap they felt with non-military peers. According to research, student veterans are characterized by self-sufficiency, confidence, self-reliance, humility, and pride (Livingston, et al, 2011).

Check out the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website for more information on the History of the GI Bill.

Resources:

Livingston, W. G., Havice, P., Cawthon, T.W., & Fleming, D.S. (2011). Coming home: Student veterans’ articulation of college re-enrollment. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48, 315-331.

Radford, A. (2009). Military service members and veterans in higher education: What the new GI Bill may mean for post-secondary institutions. Santa Monica, CA: Rand.

Vacchi, D.T. (2012). Considering Student Veterans on the Twenty-First-Century College Campus. About Campus, May-June 2012, 15-21.