Housing’s Student-Staff Wellness One Program: Successes & Challenges
This article was co-authored with Ian Crookshank.
In January 2015, Housing & Residence Life launched the Wellness One program focused on supporting the four pillars of wellbeing: financial, work-related, academic, and personal needs which are related to student staff who are leaders living and working in residence.
This article will explore successes and challenges as we near completion of our first full year of Wellness One. In the program’s launch, Wellness One focused on supporting our live-in student staff positions, which include the Residence Advisors and Academic Links. In August we launched Phase Two of the program, which now includes the live-in roles, and newly invited live-out student leadership positions, the majority of which are the Residence Service Desk (RSD) staff.
The live-out positions are integral to a successful community in housing, as the RSD staff are typically seeing residents multiple times a day. The RSD not only manages the security and access to residence space, but they are also building community through their multiple interactions with students each day, often developing enough of a rapport to identify changes in behaviour or whether a student is needing additional support, resulting in RSD connecting with the RA or Residence Life Facilitators.
Our first approach was to offer the RSD the same opportunities as the live-in student leaders. Where we’ve seen success is another step toward the live-in and live-out positions sharing successes related to community development. This has included the RSD taking leadership with their own programs, beginning with a successful campus orientation to help students find their way to class in a complicated, spread-out setting like downtown Toronto and other fun, community building events delivered throughout the year. We also saw just as much and consistent access from the live-out staff to the Student Leader Lounge, where typically the live-in roles would spend their time when not on call or when developing a community program. This has resulted in more observed connections between all student leaders, which has benefitted our department with a united focus of care for our students and community demonstrated by our live-in and live-out staff.
While there has been a clearer connection between the live-in and live-out student leader teams, it can be argued that there isn’t enough currently being offered to the unique live-out positions. For example, the way our live-in staff manage balancing multiple responsibilities is different as they are often not working set hours and need support in managing interruptions. Our live-out team almost exclusively works set shifts and therefore have different needs around managing schedules, scheduling time away, etc. The nature of the live-out roles also mean that they are not necessarily in the building when they aren’t working which presents a challenge when planning programming. It’s important to meet each set of roles where they are in order to support them in the best, most intentional way possible.
We have collected data over the course of the three academic terms in which we have run the Wellness One program. Forms of collection have ranged from 1:1 interviews, small focus groups, impromptu feedback, and an online survey tool.
The online survey tool is based on Keyes’ (2009) Mental Health Continuum Short Form and has been conducted six times to date. While the tool is anonymous, we have several ways of tracking data that can be valuable as we review data. Some of the trends that we have noticed to this point are that across all surveys, student staff are generally happy in their role. By and large they report finding reward in supporting students and the “people” aspects of the job. For the most part, challenging aspects of the role pertain to managing high-level issues and personal time management. The most recent survey offered the greatest variability in responses (scaled questions), which we believe points to students taking time to respond after reflecting on the question.
When comparing the responses of live-in staff between the 3rd quarter (January 2015) with the responses from staff in the same positions in the 3rd quarter (January 2016) there was a sharp decline in responses indicating that finances were contributing stress, but an even greater increase in responses indicating significant personal stress. We feel that this reflects positively on both action taken to better support staff members financially (increased pay, change in rent payments, etc.) but also on the shift in culture within our organization as more students are feeling comfortable coming forward to discuss how they may be challenged. In the 4th quarter (April 2016), finances returned as a point of stress, however, the response rate by live-in staff to this survey was extremely low and so we do not feel that it is an accurate depiction of the current reality. If anything, it highlights our need to continue to encourage responses to the tool.
Graphics 2 and 3 highlight areas that we would consider to be low points and high points in terms of trends when reviewing all survey results thus far. Future plans for assessment include further analysis of the data that has been collected and a review of the survey tool to ensure that the data being collected is informing the program adequately.
Phase three of the program will have intentional, geared programming to support all levels of student leadership in Housing & Residence Life. This will include the live-in positions, the live-out positions, and our upper year executive leadership of the Residence Council. This support goes two ways: it’s important, too, for our student leaders to be open and transparent about their needs in order to create a shared understanding. Furthermore, the professional staff also need to be accountable to their own wellness. By ensuring the latter and through the continued evolution of the Wellness One program, we have seen a shift in culture and stigma in Housing and Residence Life. This is leading to a greater number of our student leaders coming forward and expressing need in various forums (meetings, assessment answers, etc.).
Where we need to evolve with Wellness One is having an equitable approach to the four pillars of Wellness One. The needs of our live-in, live-out, and Residence Council executive positions are going to be very different; therefore, each group of student leaders will require appropriate opportunities to feel support and be knowledgeable of ways to access resources.
This is just as important for each group of professional staff. Our student leaders are supported and managed by two units in our department: Residence Life & Education and Operations. It’s important for there to be a continued, consistent approach to Wellness One as the program evolves. While we are already seeing a shared understanding of the program within our department, it’s important for a continued dialogue to exist related to Wellness One’s values and approach as the program matures.
Our hope is that through continued collaboration, dialogue, and synergy all of Housing & Residence Life will embrace a holistic sense of well-being that is demonstrated through establishing a common ground to support a (well) community in #RyeRes 2016-17.
We would like to thank our audiences from CACUSS, OACUHO, ACUHO-I 2015, and ACPA 2016. We are excited to present at OACUHO, CACUSS, and ACUHO-I 2016. Our hope is to not only share our information, findings, and proven practices related to our unique institution, but to also build partnerships with others.
Keyes, C. L. M. (2009). Atlanta: Brief description of the mental health continuum short form (MHC-SF). Available: https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/MHC-SFEnglish.pdf.