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Practical Tips for Addressing Presenting Issues of Community Members

With a new school year underway, and the COVID-19 pandemic far from over, institutions should be
thinking about how to practically address the presenting issues of their community members. As
highlighted in Part Two of this three-part series, the most prevalent issues institutions are now
experiencing are: (1) increased requests for flexibility, (2) increased demand for support services, and (3)
higher frequency of students experiencing financial, food, and housing insecurity. These needs can often
leave administrators unsure of how best to support students or what the appropriate adjustments are.
Below are some practical tips for institutions to consider in response to these trends.

Increased requests for flexibility:

• Implement and publish formalized procedures for students requesting COVID-19-related
accommodations. How will materials be made accessible to students who are quarantining? How
will students participate in live, in-person lectures? How will the institution ensure these procedures
are applied consistently? Note that institutions cannot legally require medical documentation from
students unless they are requiring it for all medical situations (i.e., broken leg, flu, etc.) for which
accommodations are provided.
• Encourage employees to be empathetic and understanding of students and each other. As a nation,
we are not “back to normal,” and our community members are navigating new and complex
situations both at work and/or school and at home including arranging elder care, securing
childcare, managing being immunocompromised, mental health concerns, job loss, etc.
• COVID-19 has changed the concept of an “undue burden on an institution” or what is considered a
“reasonable adjustment.” Look for what can be done rather than focusing on all the reasons
something can’t be done. Creativity and flexibility will both serve institutions well in this
unprecedented time.

Increase in demand for support services:

• Educate employees (and students!) about indications of mental health concerns and provide them
with tips on how they can respond when they see or hear something concerning.
• Employ inclusive, caring, and creative marketing messages and opportunities that welcome students
back into the institution’s physical and virtual spaces and let them know that the institution can
support them (i.e., “You belong here,” or, “In it together”). Many community members are going to
have anxiety around in-person gatherings (including classes), and a lack of social distancing and/or
masks will likely heighten this anxiety for some. If you have a counseling center, encourage them to
set up support groups to address the transition back to campus and cover topics such as coping,
self-care, etc.
• Conduct broad wellness campaigns that highlight institutional and community resources.
• Maintain telehealth/virtual options, if available.

Higher frequency of students experiencing financial, food, and housing insecurity:

• Establish a food and basic hygiene pantry for distributing food and toiletry items (e.g., toothpaste,
hand soap, shampoo, etc.) on campus. If you cannot implement such a program, try to host a
community drive for a local food/hygiene pantry and offer to have a “pop-up” pantry on campus to
market their services. Consider offering transportation options or information (bus routes, shuttle,
etc.) to the off-campus entity, if possible.
• Develop programs or resources to help students apply for SNAP benefits.
• Create MOUs and connections with safe shelters in your local community.
• Explore the availability of funds to support those needing basic resources with the financial aid
• Expand financial planning, budgeting, on-campus employment, and career services options. If the
institution has an emergency assistance fund, review the qualifications for these funds and
determine if adjustments would benefit students. Consider partnering with academic departments
or others to offer workshops on using coupons or learning to make basic meals on a budget.
• Make connections to case management and other supports for students accessing food and housing
services to provide wrap-around care to address other accompanying difficulties.

These challenges are going to be consistent for the coming months, and there is no one-size-fits-all
solution. Institutions must be flexible and consider each student’s unique needs to determine how best to
support them and their continued success.

Tim Cason, M.Ed., Consultant, TNG
Makenzie Schiemann, M.S., President, NABITA

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