Thriving Campuses Toolkit
This toolkit is based on Thriving Campuses: A Campus Guide for Well-Being, Equity and Thriving Together. It is part of an evolving body of work for Thriving Together that builds upon the Thriving Together: A Springboard (2020) and Campus Well Being Guide (2020).
Thriving Campuses: A Campus Guide for Well-Being, Equity and Thriving Together helps stakeholders advance a vision for thriving on their campuses and see their role as stewards across a set of vital campus conditions. It offers a starting point for campus stakeholders to advance equitable well-being by connecting users with information and tools for cultivating shared stewardship, responding to COVID-19, and co-creating new legacies of dignity and inclusion.
Students at colleges and universities across the United States increasingly face formidable strains on their mental, physical, and social health, often compounded by food, housing, and financial insecurity. Two- and four-year colleges and universities are seeking solutions to these complex, interrelated challenges, and many of these same institutions are confronting uncertain financial futures, along with dwindling public support and questions about the primary purpose and value of post-secondary education. All of this was in motion well before 2020, when a global pandemic, a major economic decline, and widespread demand for addressing racial injustice upended the status quo. Against this backdrop, campus administrators, students, faculty, and staff are actively searching for new and better approaches to advance collective and equitable well-being.
This guide moves campus stewards through three sections that contextualize the Thriving Together model for campuses:
- Vital Campus Conditions shape our opportunities for individual and collective thriving. They provide a comprehensive lens through which to understand campus well-being and envision possibilities to lead together to improve it.
- Campus Legacies encompass past decisions, practices, and investments of our predecessors strongly influence today’s patterns of thriving, suffering, and struggling. Higher education has its share of legacies that have inflicted generational harm, like systematic racism on educational achievement and economic mobility, and legacies worth celebrating, like student activism in the civil rights movement. This historic moment offers today’s campus leaders an extraordinary opportunity to create new legacies for inclusion, well-being, and justice—starting on their own campus.
- Campus Stewardship is a shared endeavor with intentional practices, such as building trusted relationships through dialogue; surfacing and shaping new narratives; using catalytic measures; and identifying multi-solving strategies. Students, administrators, faculty, and staff can all play a stewardship role from their respective positions of influence.
Vital Campus Conditions
Vital Campus Conditions are properties of places and institutions that we all need all the time to reach our full potential. They function as an interconnected whole and together provide a comprehensive lens through which to understand well-being and envision possibilities to lead together to improve it. When campus stakeholders work together to expand vital campus conditions, we create a culture of well-being and equity where students, faculty, and staff can thrive.
Basic Needs Security
Basic needs security is about the most practical requirements for survival. Food, housing, financial security, and access to healthcare are necessary for life and learning. Students across the country increasingly struggle to meet their basic needs. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated basic needs insecurity—straining personal finances, creating challenging housing situations, and creating new healthcare needs for campus community members.
Campuses play a significant role in promoting physical health, safety, and vitality by providing opportunities for physical activity, supplying healthy foods across campus dining, extending access to preventive health services, and ensuring safety. Since the onset of COVID-19, protecting the physical health of students, faculty, and staff has been of utmost concern. As institutions resume campus operations, they are instituting a set of practices and policies to keep their communities safe and healthy.
Mental and Emotional Well-Being
Since the onset of COVID-19, college students across the U.S. have grappled with massive disruptions to their education and, as a result, a nationwide decline in student mental health. Educational stressors and uncertainty have been significant sources of stress. Many students have also struggled with anxiety, depression, and loneliness related to the threat of COVID-19 and changes in daily life.
Educational experiences can be transformative for well-being by nurturing intellectual growth, cultivating a sense of purpose, and growing belonging, efficacy, and resilience. Meaningful educational experiences occur inside and outside of the classroom (or virtual classroom as it may be), with faculty mentors, and through peer-to-peer learning. Inclusive pedagogy—a student-centered approach to teaching that creates a supportive and welcoming learning environment for students of all backgrounds and invites a diversity of perspectives—is core to how educational experiences foster well-being. Through engaging, inclusive, meaningful educational experiences, institutions of higher learning can engender individual well-being and shape the next generation of civically-engaged leaders.
Culture of Caring and Belonging
A campus culture of caring and belonging is rooted in principles of social inclusion and support, and racial healing. A culture of caring and belonging seeks for all students, staff, and faculty to experience inclusive and welcoming environments. The more stakeholders feel like they belong and have a sense of shared identity, the more they engage in shaping the conditions of their campuses. Belonging is both necessary for community members to achieve a sense of well-being and foundational for advancing campus vital conditions, especially now as we come back together and collectively recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Higher education is in a "Legacy Moment" wherein we can reject legacies that dehumanize, exclude and inflict trauma and co-create new legacies that confer dignity and inclusion by acting together. Thriving Campuses supports users in doing so by: highlighting issues of equity across the campus vital conditions; exploring campus legacies of discrimination and exclusions; centering equity through dialogue and measurement work; and helping them to see themselves as stewards of thriving, diverse, just campuses.
Equitable well-being provides a unifying frame for higher education and campus life: to advance individual well-being and life opportunities of students, faculty, and staff by expanding campus vital conditions for collective well-being. Thriving students, faculty and staff, on thriving campuses—no exceptions—is our North Star. This means focusing on populations for whom equity gaps exist. These groups include: first-generation college students, students of color, transgender students, parenting students, students with disabilities, student service members, veterans and returning citizens. Disparities among these groups and other equity considerations are integrated throughout Thriving Campuses, including across all Vital Campus Conditions.
Stewards of campus well-being are students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders who share responsibility for working across differences to co-create new legacies of dignity and inclusion and expand vital campus conditions for all to thrive. Stewardship is a shared endeavor with intentional practices, such as building trusted relationships through dialogue; surfacing and shaping new narratives; using catalytic measures; and identifying multi-solving strategies. It calls upon us to foster authentic engagement across campus stakeholders, and realize the potential for different departments and disciplines to work together to improve equitable well-being.
Thriving Campuses seeks to help users: see themselves as stewards of thriving, diverse, just campuses; find resources to aid campus stewards in their work; and learn tips and skills for stewards.
Dialogue strengthens our sense of belonging and connection by building relationships. When we listen, share, and discover, we are able to create meaning together—and are better positioned to take action on our campus.
Dialogues can be in groups of two to eight, with friends, colleagues, acquaintances, or strangers. In campus settings, it is particularly helpful to bring together students, staff, and faculty to share perspectives on well-being and the vital conditions for a healthy, equitable campus community.
Campus stewards can learn “Who’s thriving and isn’t” by using measures of well-being that capture and value how students, faculty, and staff think and feel about their own lives in a holistic, equitable way. The Thriving Together: Springboard recommends using Cantril’s Self-Anchoring Scale, a two-item measure of evaluative well-being that assesses current life evaluation, future life optimism, and overall life evaluation, categorized into thriving, struggling, and suffering.
Campus stewards should also measure other important dimensions of well-being, including perceived overall health, financial security, social connectedness, and sense of meaning and purpose. Many campuses participate in surveying efforts like the National College Health Assessment, Healthy Minds Study, The Hope Center Student Basic Needs Survey, and The Wellbeing Assessment which can help us better understand our campus vital conditions. Other administrative, facility, and even de-identified student data can also be leveraged.
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