With the rise in young adult mental health challenges and the needs of students with a disability amplified by a global pandemic, institutions across the country are experiencing an increased need for on-campus case and crisis management services. When it comes to the accessibility services and student conduct offices, the need to implement cross-campus collaboration that provides a holistic student support system in addressing these complex issues facing students is of critical importance.
To discuss these challenges and how to connect these two campus offices, Symplicity convened three all-stars in higher ed for an engaging, insightful conversation. Moderated by Symplicity’s own Alicia Freeland the panel included: Stacey Harris, J.D., Dean of Students at William & Mary; Dennis Kerwin, Assistant Director of Academic Wellbeing at William & Mary; and Ali Martin Scoufield, Assistant Vice President for Campus Engagement & Dean of Students at Cleveland State University.
In case you missed it, here are some highlights from our conversation:
Students Are Behind
While students with disabilities often dealt with challenges pre-pandemic, coming back to in-person academic settings seems to be causing setbacks. "Students are a little bit behind in navigating the newness. The growth hasn't been there," said Stacey Harris to our audience. Higher ed institutions are witnessing conflicts they haven't seen before, with incidents being raised by students much earlier than in a "normal" academic year. For students with disabilities, coming back to in-person spaces highlights the fact that they haven't yet learned how to self advocate as much, or have a clear understanding of how to navigate challenging interpersonal relationships. “Students are a little bit more behind in navigating the newness and the growth,” Harris concluded.
In addition, Ali Scoufield noted that during the pandemic, students with a disability engaged better. Yet, in coming out of the pandemic, because there are fewer remote options available, challenges for some students/ As Harris noted, “We had students that struggled with back issues that could lay down and still attend class and certainly with anxiety, but we also had isolation issues. Mental health is on the rise, and so I think, putting that all together, our students are coming back, and not sure how to engage in community, and that's really for me the connection between sometimes disability and our conduct.”
Navigating Self Advocacy
For newer students that started at an institution during the pandemic, they may have not had to tell someone about their need for accommodation. However, in returning in-person living and learning, students are now unsure what accommodations they now need or where to start the conversation. “They were able to just accommodate themselves, and not have to tell other people. They didn't have to say, I need X or Y,” said Dennis Kerwin. “Now we're at a place where students need to say I need X and Y, and they're not quite sure how to advocate for themselves on the part, and they're not quite sure where to necessarily go or how to start that conversation until it's too late. And then we have conversations with them of ‘Why did nobody help me earlier?’”
Initial Barriers to Cross-Campus Collaboration
Some students chose not to engage with the disability services office as the pandemic enabled some students to not need to go through an intake process. It can be a vulnerable risk for them, particularly for a student demographic that has often had to reiterate their story. Yet, that has meant campus offices didn’t have the full scope of a student identity. As Scoufield noted, “I think when we're moving to a situation where those things aren't just automatically in place, it can create friction.” Yet, the initial barrier of connecting student conduct and disability service, Scoufield commented, is a lack of an open flow of communication on what is and isn’t shared between offices.
“Getting started and making it part of your routine,” is communicating Scoufield said during our panel. At Cleveland State University, Scoufield and her team have seen success in including disability services in their CARE team. As a member of that group, those staff members have access to Symplicity Advocate and can see which students are of concern and cross reference that with someone their office is supporting. Like Cleveland State, William & Mary has moved towards a more holistic and restorative model of campus collaboration with disability services, student conduct, and CARE reporting up to the Dean of Students. This has given them the ability of connecting more of the dots than they would have been able to in the past.
In addition, William & Mary has helped bridge this gap by having both Symplicity Advocate and Accommodate on their campus. “Technology can be your friend,” said Kerwin who triages the over 1,900-2,000 CARE reports each year and with both products on campus, it has eliminated in-person and virtual silos. “We rebooted our entire CARE system.... With that, we then intel and change the way that we are utilizing Advocate. After processing that through with our client managers, and because we are both an Advocate and Accommodate campus… now Accommodate can feed into Advocate, so that if a student needs an accommodation it’s simply indicated in Advocate, without disclosing what that accommodation or disability might be.”
Utilizing Advocate and Accommodate, or any technology, can be insightful for campus offices to better support each other and their students. “It simply says yes or no, just to let us know if they’ve been working with someone in accessibility services. And that's really helpful for me, as somebody who triages CARE reports to know that someone is responding to those CARE reports,” Kerwin concluded.
Symplicity can support campuses in connecting departments and offices with our robust technology platforms, Advocate and Accommodate. If you wish to learn more about how Symplicity can better support your campus operations, schedule a demo today or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.