One of the largest driving factors in prevention efforts over the past several years has been an increase in student activism. According to data gleaned from the Campus Prevention Network Diagnostic Inventories, 85% of schools are using peer educators to support prevention efforts. This blog is Part One of a three-part series focusing on maximizing student engagement, channeling student activism, and empowering peer educators.
Colleges and universities are under ongoing pressure to better prepare students for the workforce, while also working to tackle critical wellness and safety issues such as sexual assault, high risk drinking, diversity and inclusion, and mental health. In keeping with this, many institutions are utilizing students to assist with these efforts. Below are five things to keep in mind as you work with students at your institution.
Engage a diverse range of students
When inviting students to be a part of prevention efforts, it is important to think critically about the types of students that you already work with, and to consider what voices may be missing from the conversation. Making sure you have well-rounded representation will help ensure that your office is able to utilize perspectives from a diverse range of students. Some groups to consider are student leaders, athletes, Greek students, students with disabilities, LGBT students, minority populations, and those who represent the often silent but healthy majority of students who do not engage in high-risk drinking or other potentially harmful behavior.
Present multiple opportunities to engage students
There are many creative ways to engage students in prevention work. We can satisfy a variety of interests by offering internships, course credit, practicum opportunities, curriculum infusion, and/or student representation on an institutional Coalition or task force designed to support wellness related issues. By providing a range of opportunities for students to get involved, you can maximize your efforts and eliminate potential barriers. For example, presenting students with an opportunity to serve on a Coalition with monthly meetings provides an opportunity for them to contribute their valuable perspective toward systemic change, but does not overburden them with an extensive time commitment. Students can also be a part of the decision process when choosing what prevention efforts to implement. This guide, developed by EVERFI, contains a survey template to help guide students as reviewers of online programs. Student engagement should support the development of students’ interests and skills related to their academic and career pursuits, as well as their individual strengths.
Pair opportunities to the needs and strengths of students
It is important to understand students’ strengths and needs and pair them with opportunities that can support and nurture those aspects of their identity. When considering how to best maximize the efforts of students, we should consider the skills and perspectives necessary for success, and how we can enable a student to succeed. For example, a student leader who is outspoken about the drinking culture at the college might be better suited for a role on the Task Force where their voice will be heard by others who have similar values, while a student with a passion for event planning may be more appropriate for supporting efforts in that domain. In preliminary conversations with students, ask them about their strengths and interests and make an effort to match them with outreach opportunities that are well-aligned.
Refine criteria for student selection
It might be tempting to try to engage as many students as possible, but remember that quality sometimes trumps quantity. With this in mind, we should consider being more selective in which students we engage and create criteria we can use to refine the selection process. For example, we could use an application, interview, or a required letter of recommendation to identify the best students for an opportunity, whether it is an internship in our office or sitting on a Campus Community Coalition. By creating an application process, you can maximize the pool of applicants that are interested in an opportunity and create a database of students to tap for future outreach opportunities. To help support administrators in growing their list of engaged students, EVERFI’s AlcoholEdu for College courses allows students to sign up to be contacted with an invitation to either attend or help plan alcohol-free events or participate in prevention efforts. Administrators are provided with a report of the most popular social activities selected by students and the email addresses of students who are interested in getting more involved.
Provide skills training
We need to ensure that the way we are engaging students is teaching them skills that will be of value to their personal growth, career path, and future employment. One way to evaluate the opportunities we are offering to students is to create measurable learning outcomes. If a position lacks opportunities to meet the learning outcomes then staff members could add additional responsibilities to the position or create another path for students to develop skills in the role. A slightly less rigorous way to evaluate the positions we are offering to students, which may be a good fit for schools that do not have the time or resources to measure learning outcomes, is to create competency areas that students work through during their time in the position. Both methods help to ensure that students are developing critical skills like professionalism, communication, and time management.
We hope that as you continue and expand your work with students, you keep in mind these five tips and use them to inform your outreach efforts.