3 steps you can take now to support students post-election

A preview of upcoming research on student activism

Liz Brown, ConsultantLiz Brown, Student Affairs Forum Consultant

After the surprising results of the election, campuses are experiencing another sharp uptick in student activism—which has already been on the rise for a year.

Trump's election inflames issues that campus activists have been pressing on for months, including 'political correctness,' race relations, immigration, and sexual assault.

Read more about how the election might shape higher ed

In many ways, the challenges for colleges and universities are similar to those from the year prior to the election: how best to ensure a welcoming and inclusive campus climate, support the campus community, and respond to student activists.

At the direction of our members, EAB's Student Affairs Forum has spent the last year researching student activism, including how institutions can identify and engage student activists, facilitate community dialogues on difficult issues, and respond to activism on campus. In light of this week's events, we are giving you a preview of three steps you can take now to support your campus community in the wake of the election.

1: Support reflection and recovery for the campus community

Particularly for students, managing the aftermath of a toxic campaign and surprising election can be difficult. Students might feel physically or emotionally exhausted, experience increased anxiety or depression, or fall academically behind from the burden of the political rhetoric and their investment of time and energy into a campaign or activism around the election.

To help students cope with the aftermath of the election, consider offering opportunities for reflection and recovery. On-call counselors and facilitated group dialogues can connect students with campus resources and like-minded peers to process how to move forward. It's also important to make these same resources available to faculty, staff, and administrators—particularly those in student-facing positions.

As our country moves forward, it is critically important for institutions to facilitate opportunities for productive and ongoing community dialogue. Consider developing a community reflection space to bring together students, faculty, staff, and community members. Hold town hall meetings and events where participants can engage with those who disagree with them in a safe environment focused on learning, growth, and progress.

2: Provide just-in-time guidance to students looking to protest on campus

As students continue to mobilize and protest the election on campus, now is the time to provide advice that encourages safety and manages risk.

Faculty, staff, and administrators can proactively work with organizers of protests (and counter-protests) to equip these students with up-to-date information about campus policies and resources. Administrators can coach student activists about campus rules and how to be safe and effective, collaborate on logistics, and plan for possible tense situations. For instance, ensure that students are aware that they can contact campus or community police for an escort if marching across busy intersections or across town.

Presidents with a student affairs background are prepared to deal with difficult situations

3: Prepare faculty, staff, and administrators to respond to student activists

While supporting students is (and should be) a top-of-mind concern, it is also important to prepare and support university administrators, faculty, and staff as they manage the fallout of the election and increased activism on campus.

An institution's first response to student activists is critical—it sets the tone for moving forward, ensures student safety, and minimizes institutional disruption. Furthermore, your first response will likely be magnified and dissected by students, the public, and the media. In our research, we found that most institutions don't have a set first-response strategy, leading to a delay as institutions scramble to determine who is available and prepared to respond.

When communicating with the campus community, timeliness and thoughtfulness are of the utmost importance. For example, consider how the words and actions of senior leaders, faculty, and staff might affect their current and future relationships with students. Official statements or off-the-cuff partisan remarks might comfort students who are in agreement, but they also might unintentionally alienate others. To serve as an open resource to all students, it is important that everyone from the president to a faculty member to a student organization advisor consider how their words and actions might be construed.

Why now is the time to talk about student activism

Institutions also need an established strategy on how to first respond to demonstrations and activists on campus. Consider developing a standing response team comprised of administrators who are trained in campus policies, working with students in tense situations, and de-escalation strategies. Develop a flexible plan that details how your team will approach student activists, manage protests, and work with law enforcement. Determining these details now versus in the moment will ensure a speedier and effective response to activism on campus.

Based on the activity we have seen over the last year, let alone this week, campus activism is here to stay and likely to grow. We plan to release more research across early 2017 about how to navigate the new wave of student activism.


Next in Today's Briefing

The academic's second shift

Next Briefing

  • Manage Your Events
  • Saved webpages and searches
  • Manage your subscriptions
  • Update personal information
  • Invite a colleague