Notes from Student Housing Professionals
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Tammie Brown Butler
The new normal. The meaning of this phrase continues to evolve as we try to capture the curious ways in which COVID-19 is changing our day-to-day work and personal lives. I’m reminded of a long family vacation driving across the desert together, in the summer, with broken air conditioning. The hot stretches of road were uncomfortable at times, but there were also key moments of enlightenment and we made do. In that tight space with nothing but our thoughts to keep us busy, we learned lessons about our own resilience. Our higher education journey in response to the pandemic could also feel long and uncomfortable at times. It will require courage, humor, patience, collaboration, and perseverance to reach our destination.
As the former Chief Housing Officer at Montana State University, I know that student affairs professionals are a rare breed who thrive on problem solving, creativity, flexibility, enthusiasm, and commitment to student development. In looking toward Fall 2020, we can see that the COVID-19 challenges are universal with tweaks specific to individual institutions. A myriad of factors require evaluation, including decreased enrollments, decreased budgets, staffing adjustments, modified policies regarding student housing occupancy, student conduct, increased expectations around cleaning schedules and sanitation, and ongoing health considerations for every member of the college or university.
I don’t know a single person who hasn’t been impacted. My friends and former colleagues who are responsible for planning and executing a safe and welcoming environment for students to return to college campuses are working in uncharted territory. I find myself watching them lay the groundwork for many of us to understand what normal might look and feel like these days, and in comings months and years.
As higher education professionals, we pride ourselves on creating welcoming and inclusive communities for students to experience intellectual, emotional, and social growth during their time on campus. We have always embraced this challenge and approached it with passion, enthusiasm, and commitment each new year. As such, we have remained dedicated to achieving the same ends going forward now, shoring up lessons learned and a range of expertise to strengthen our untested solutions.
Spring term 2020 is a case in point. The onset of COVID-19 demanded quick campus closures and a Herculean effort from every corner of campus to replace “business as usual” with alternative methods to deliver intellectual opportunities. Faculty members and academic advisors employed creative methods to maintain their academic connection with students who were suddenly displaced across the country and the world! Reaching across the miles, student affairs/housing/residence life professionals used diverse forms of communication to continue established relationships and provide support in the final weeks. Support staff responded to concerned parents and family members on a plethora of issues that didn’t have established answers. Completing spring term also meant closing and moving out while preparing for fall term opening, including hiring new staff who were unable to interview on campus. Recognizing how demanding the routine management is, I can hardly fathom the additional challenges that higher education professionals have been facing.
Tammie Brown Butler,
Former MSU Chief Housing Officer