As the assistant director of student involvement, I often hear things such as, “Why should we be involved?” or “I enjoyed being engaged because it is entertaining.” My personal favorite quote is the reflective, “I learned a lot this year just from my involvement in this club or organization.” All of this sounds intriguing, but then come the day-to-day politics. We often deal with so much as student activity professionals, we risk becoming jaded by the obscure functions of our job. Most troublesome is the possibility of losing sight of the true purpose of our work in student engagement, the students.
101 Learn your environment and students
For two years, you have worked at a job with diverse student population. You have read literature, tried numerous fresh activities and programs, and vented to your supervisor about your lack of success. You begin to reflect, “Have I immersed in the culture of my students?” When trying to become familiar with your students, please consider dropping by the café or chatting with CAB & SGA leaders. This discussion might assist you with gaining insight from students on the dos and don’ts of the campus. No one knows better than a student what other students enjoy. Explore this first prior to spending money on expensive programs to bring student satisfaction.
When I started at IUPUC, my students loved inflatables and I thought to myself it is an “Inflatable.” Yet instead of switching the culture, I started to love inflatables. Eventually, I participated in the activities on special occasions such as Spring Fling. I incorporated other amusing items like laser tag, bubble soccer, henna art, and caricature to get them exposed to novel things. The campus still likes inflatables; however, they now have a couple of different items to rave about.
We entered the field as student affairs practitioners because we saw value in lived experiences with students. For example, we are enlightened by that rush of watching them grow and develop; helping that shy student with their first speech and listening to a student explain the tangible benefits of attending a leadership conference. Most importantly, you feel rewarded when students are accepted into graduate school and you provided one of their recommendation letters. All of these points reinforce the need for our positions and interactions.
Yet, the above focuses on the many positive aspects, what happens on a bad day? Some examples include fighting for a student-worker to get a contract extension and the student shows little appreciation, increasing student engagement activities on campus after getting feedback from student leaders with hardly any participation from campus constituents; and sacrificing personal time on the weekends for late night programming with an attendance of only ten students. All of these scenarios trigger thoughts like, “Are my students not interested?’ and “Are the activities I plan not meaningful?” You look for innovative ways to move forward but some students present a lack of consistency and care for programs. However, to counter your previous thoughts with an amazing reaction, one of your students rushes into your office to display their excitement about a new program. Also, new giveaways during homecoming week bring another level of enthusiasm from your students. At this point, you realize that your student’s happiness is what truly matters.
Remember, it’s all about the students
Everything we do in student activities has a significant purpose. We have the ability to brighten up a student’s day and help to shape their future. Despite, the hardships that occur in these positions, we must remain focused on our students. We may not receive the constant “thank you” or recognition by our peers, but we are special and necessary components to our institutions. What we do as student activity professionals adds value to co-curricular engagement on campus. Moving forward, remember that our true purpose is our students; remain focused on our task and calling.