The Force Awakens Between Faculty, Staff & Student Affairs Professionals: Reflections on Fostering Meaningful Connections

By: Kristina Minnella (Coordinator, Co-Curricular Learning; @kriminnella) and Emzhei Chen (Manager, Student Life & Leadership Programs, @emzheichen)

Nearly 85,000 students across three campuses; more than 13,000 faculty and almost 6500 staff – that’s a whole lot of people to bring together. The Student Life Professionals Network at the University of Toronto enriches the lives of students and aims to make a very big university feel a little smaller.

UofT

In a new initiative called SLP Reads, student affairs educators explore and discuss ideas in higher education literature. The piece selected for the first SLP Reads was “The More We Work Together The Happier We’ll Be!(?): Faculty and Staff Partnerships on Campus” – a blog post from the Supporting Student Success research study headed by Dr. Tricia Seifert (@CdnStdntSuccess; @TriciaSeifert).

Colleagues from 16 different offices were present. Areas that were present included: Housing and Residence Life, Student Transition, Health & Counselling, Academic Advising, Career Services, International Experience, Community-Engaged Learning and Academic Even with our diverse communities and varied academic ecosystems across the three campuses, it was fascinating to see many of our ideas coalesce under a number of themes.

Validation. Many of our colleagues indicated that they were not surprised at the findings. The reading contains statistics that cite that just over 60% of faculty have never partnered with Community Outreach, Specific Populations (International Students, First Nations students or First Generation.) Many seemed to appreciate that there were now statistics and data to acknowledge what they knew anecdotally, that it is hard to connect with faculty.

Relationship Building. So yes, our feelings were validated. We spent much of our discussion focussing on the question “Now what?” Unanimously, discussions from our tri-campus discussions show that student affairs professionals are keen on forming connections and relationships.

Findings in the reading show that there are areas (Personal Well-Being, Alumni) where faculty are more likely to have been in a prior partnership versus an ongoing one, which made us ponder the patterns that must exist in order to maintain a relationship. We talked about the importance of taking the time to seek out faculty members that have research and interests that align with your area of work before establishing communication.

A great suggestion that came up was rethinking how we ask to collaborate with faculty. Instead of simply inviting faculty to collaborate, someone suggested the importance of recognizing the experience of Faculty and seeking feedback for improvement of programming and initiatives, then actually using those suggestions for program improvement. Another suggestion was to clearly define the purpose, programs and types of roles where faculty can get involved and taking the time to examine our own programming to highlight potential areas of engagement that could lead to meaningful ongoing relationships

Communication. Thinking about the way we communicate with faculty was something that was highlighted for us. The reading speaks to having a high rate of faculty (67%) who had not participated in a partnership with the area of Personal Well-Being (Counselling & Health Services), even in light of campuses championing a holistic view of students. It is noteworthy, but not entirely surprising as faculty may not understand what we actually do for students, hence the lack of collaboration even though the work accomplished is of the utmost importance. Therefore, communication is key in establishing fruitful working relationships.

Another thought is that student affairs may be viewed as one unified entity from the faculty point of view, even though we might be distinct units with not a lot of contact. As units, it may be beneficial to tighten up the language that we use as professionals. Terminology that is common across departments would lend some consistency and cohesiveness to the work that we are doing.

Perhaps as practitioners we should be grounding our work in theory, and reflecting it in the way we talk about our activities and programs. We know that our work is not all about board games and baked goods! Through this focus, the language being utilized better reveals the relevance of what work is being done.

One of the most revealing lessons from our discussions is that we all have students as our common denominator. They can be great communication vehicles to share programming with faculty, especially on initiatives in which they are actively engaged in. Student events and organizations that you work with may already have existing relationships with faculty. Your work with student leaders could be what fosters these connections.

At the end of the day, we are all partners for student success on campus. Therefore, greater discussion is encouraged- within Student Affairs professionals, connecting with faculty has been on our radar for quite some time! It was a great opportunity for us to use this reading as a starting point for a great discussion across all three campuses.

 

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