After a full day of toting boxes and bags of clothes up three flights of stairs, the Sheldon family was finally done with helping their daughter Rachel move in to her new residence hall room. It was interesting to figure out how to have Mom, Dad, young brother and younger sister all in the room along with her roommate’s family and all of their stuff, but they made it. When all the beds were made and all of the clothes were away, Rachel realized it was time for her to say goodbye. Mom and Dad had the same realization too and the conversation went something like this,
“Rachel, you have to get to a floor meeting now. This is it, honey. We have to go.”
“Ok mom. Text you later. Roommate, let’s go there together?”
Then there were hugs, a couple of tears and….a long, silent, reflective walk back to the car for Rachel’s parents and back to the room for Rachel. They had no idea, but mom, dad and Rachel all simultaneously had a sigh of acknowledgement that things would be different from that point forward.
Today marks my seventeenth year of helping support some aspect of “move-in day” at a campus as a campus activities professional. Regardless of which schools I have worked at, the formula is pretty similar. There are friendly smiles from staff (sometimes masking stress), hopeful faces on incoming students (sometimes masking fear or anxiety) and proud faces on their families (sometimes masking fear, anxiety, stress, frustration…there’s a long list). The family members dutifully assist their incoming student with trying to move their treasured possessions into the world’s tiniest living spaces, wonder about the uncomfortable moment of when it’s “time to leave,” and exchange goodbyes. The family makes that walk out to the car and the student makes that walk over to their floor meetings and a new chapter begins.
I’ve been learning a lot about organizational culture in my classes this semester and this process is a good example of an acculturation process that occurs on many campuses as many new members join our campus communities. However, at some institutions it only tells part of the story.
I’m thinking about the comparable experience for a commuter. We’ll call him Joseph.
That conversation sounds more like this,
“Mom and Dad, I have to be on campus for some Welcome Week events. See you later!’
“Joseph, what time will you be home? Will you be home for dinner? Can you drop off your sister at her friend’s house on the way? We also need more milk from the store since you’re going out anyway.”
The parents’ thought process while Joseph is on campus isn’t likely about his transition to college, what a special time this is, or whether he will grow and change as a college student. It’s actually about the milk needed to make tonight’s dinner and hoping he’s not out late. That mom and dad can probably think about that other stuff…later.
As campus leaders, we need to start thinking about the point of transition into our campus culture for our commuter students as well as their families. Orientation programs are typically the point where we try to get students and their families to have that “things are going to be different” realization. However, at some campuses there is a full two months between Orientation and the first day of classes.
Even if your campus has the best possible New Student Convocation right before the start of school, our resident students seem to still start a little ahead of the game because we have structured that transition point to happen at move-in day.
Given so many students are commuting to campus this year and that our profession has placed a priority on enhancing campus culture, let’s start rethinking campus rituals, symbols and traditions. What can we do to give our commuters and their families that reflective moment of “things are going to be different?”
Please share your best ideas!