GO RAMS! Colorado State was inspiring

The DSA folks at CSU are awesome and yesterday’s powerhouse was sweet. Go Rams!

Translation – The Department of Student Affairs staff at Colorado State University were incredibly welcoming in sharing their knowledge and experience during yesterday’s series of meetings, which were educational and inspiring. We hope your sports teams are successful.

There was really so much shared yesterday that we found interesting and this blog post will contain some of the main points, but to hear all of the good stuff please come along to our Friday morning session at the conference.

CSU Health Network

The CSU Health Network has ‘Care for body & mind’ as it’s moniker and places mental health and physical health together. This is fairly unique in the US but allows much greater collaborative working. For example, students coming with a physical ailment are also screened for anxiety and depression.

Mental health is a growing issue and the focus of the talk was on this. They see mental health on a continuum and offer a range of interventions. Mindfulness, resilience programmes, positive coping courses and health education at one end, and an I-Team at the more serious end of the scale. The I-Team provide psychological interventions and includes two counsellors, one psychiatrist, and one medical officer working to a Dialectical Behaviour Therapy model. They work very closely with hospital clinicians at discharge to help support students back into halls.

CSU Support & Safety Assessment

The Support & Safety team provide support interventions for students in distress, or those who have committed felonies, sorry crimes, or whose behaviour is of concern. Their whole focus is on behaviours and work to change those behaviours.

The team recommended not to put up barriers such as sending students away from campus but work with students to change behaviours. This works, as less than one student a year (out of 25,000) are excluded from the university. This is the closest example to our Fitness to Study, but appears more about supporting students to change their behaviour so they become fit to study. This team work closely with the Health Network, as mental health is a big issue.

Universities here have a legal requirement to investigate alleged sexual harassment / domestic violence / stalking, which this team do regardless of a police investigation. They are investigating to see if a student has broken the code of conduct, not to see if they have broken the law. A case manager is assigned to support the accused.

They have a ‘tell someone’ button on their webpages if someone is concerned about another.

Student diversity

CSU have seven student diversity programs and each have their own office and staff. This is unusual in the USA where most have one multi-cultural centre.

Students self-identify to one or more of these distinct identity centres. The centres reach out to students through the admission process and provide a home away from home.

We were amazed at the resources allocated to each team and how these programmes were really popular and aid retention. We did wonder whether UK students self-identify in the same way though.

The group were very impressed with the work of the Women & Gender Advocacy Centre. They have a number of successful programmes to combat sexual harassment and gender violence. Sexual harassment training uses peer educators to discuss at all orientations and educate what a healthy relationship is.

Reframe is their new programme. They focus on the use of language and have an educational booklet to help adjust language and attitudes. For example, they provide t-shirts and stickers saying ‘I believe’ in support of survivors of assault.

There is also the Haven sexual harrassment online course, which students are required to complete, ideally before they enter CSU – but they cannot progress to year two without completing it.

Assessment & Research

Student Affairs has its own director of assessment and research who supports all the programmes in ensuring they can articulate their value and impact. He asks two questions:

  1. How do you know what you are doing makes a difference?
  2. Are you improving?

The Assessment & Research committee in Student Affairs meets once a month to discuss best practice. He said it took five years to develop a culture of assessment.

The key is to tie assessment to university strategic goals. One example was their finding that GPA scores are consistently higher for students who live on campus. This led to insisting all freshmen, sorry first years, have to live on campus and allowed them to gain extra resources to develop hall initiatives such as learning communities.

The director also runs the MA in Student Affairs academic programme and many of the DSA staff teach on that programme.

There was so much more discussed yesterday, including an interesting meeting with the President who told us about the progress made in linking student affairs with academic affairs. A lot of success has been in collaborative programmes, the upswing of learning communities and educating the faculties to the value of student affairs.

It was a really fascinating day and we thank all the staff at Colorado State who gave up their time for us. We are off to Boulder today and it will be interesting to see what we find at our other Colorado hosts. Go Rams!

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