Ask the Experts: Susan Lantz on Student Affairs in the 21st century
November 03, 2011
LEWISBURG, Pa. — Susan Lantz, dean of students, discusses Student Affairs in the 21st century.
Q: What role does student life — life outside the classroom — play in the educational mission of a liberal arts university like Bucknell?
A: The responsibility of Student Affairs is student success — to help students become successful however they define that for themselves. And that really involves life both inside and outside the classroom. Students perform better in the classroom when they're happier, when they're connected and when things are going well.
We try to engage the students in positive ways, making campus life one that allows for leadership development and involvement in positive and fun ways. Our students are mostly 18 when they come to campus, and legally they're adults, but one of our responsibilities is to help them move into their adulthood. It doesn't just happen that you become 18, you're an adult and suddenly you're in charge of your own life. Our role is to help students become independent actors and doers, to help them with self-governance, with navigating academic and social challenges.
From support in the residence halls to activities planned on Friday and Saturday evenings, the many different offices within Student Affairs assist in helping to create a supportive campus environment that encourages this development growth. Our Student Affairs staff is committed to partnering with faculty and staff in ways that integrate academic and student life.
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing undergraduates today?
A: In addition to concerns regarding performing well academically, first-year students come to campus thinking "How am I going to make friends, and who are my friends going to be?" Everything they do that first week, in the back of their minds, revolves around acceptance, fitting in. Students often have misconceived perceptions of "normal social behavior." Perhaps the perception is that everyone on campus drinks, when in actuality, many students on campus would rather socialize without the pressure of drinking.
One of the huge challenges is the role that alcohol plays in students' lives. The majority of students come to campus with their alcohol habits already determined. Students who drink in high school typically drink in college, and they tend to think of a college campus as a very safe place. Yes, we want our campus to be a safe place for growth and development, but we don't want it to be a place where students think that they can engage in risky behaviors in a safe way.
Q: Last spring, Bucknell joined 31 other colleges and universities in a multifaceted initiative to examine high-risk drinking and prevention. Could you talk about what we might learn from this initiative, the National College Health Improvement Plan?
A: We're looking at what we're doing on our campuses to help decrease the amount of high-risk drinking. How are we assessing those efforts? What are those assessments teaching us? And what should we be doing differently based on that assessment?
Instead of Bucknell learning from just our own actions, we're learning a lot from the other institutions, and we're sharing our insights with them. The initiative is first looking at the individual drinker. Then we'll look the environment, and then we'll look at the system and its policies and procedures.
With regard to the individual drinker, we're exploring what can make the biggest difference in a student's decision to participate in high-risk drinking. For example, parental involvement is a key influencer to this generation of college students. We're also seeing the benefits of brief motivational interviewing — that is, one-on-one interaction with students. Faculty members, coaches, health center staff and dean of student staff members have the ability to make a big impact with small conversations regarding alcohol, behaviors and options. Small, individually focused interactions are very effective in preventing high-risk behaviors, especially when they come from a trusted adult.
Related to brief motivational intervention is bystander intervention, where students step in when they see inappropriate actions or behaviors. Sometimes that can be difficult on a small campus, where everyone knows each other, so we're developing ways to continue to empower our students to stand up for themselves and each other. Our students have been incredibly receptive to learning more about ways they can help. We plan to work closely with many student groups and departments for assistance with this program.
We have fabulous student leaders who can work with us to make positive change. They can help us determine what the issues really are and how we can use their leadership to help solve problems. I think we can do that in all of our areas of concern, whether it's diversity, alcohol education, sexual assault education, hazing or bystander intervention. I think that's what Student Affairs is really all about — helping our students understand the role they have in their environment and the role they have in making positive changes.
Q: What's happening now, nationally or internationally, that will shape the future of Student Affairs? What are you planning ahead for?
A: The demographic of who's coming to college is changing. In the next 10 years, the population of students graduating from high school will look very different from the populations graduating today. We'll have a larger population of first-generation students, an increased number of international students, and more diversity of home states and ethnicities. We need to be mindful of the changing needs of students each year and what we may need to do differently in order to support those students.
My staff and I are assessing what we do well in supporting the needs of all students, and hoping to use that information to inform positive future changes. We are assessing every aspect of campus living, with a special emphasis on our residential environment. Bucknell is committed to providing students an engaging residential community. We have very successful living-learning communities such as the Residential Colleges, affinity houses and student-created themed small group houses. Again with the needs of students in mind, the changing needs of students and the anticipated needs of future Bucknell students, we would like to continue to create unique programs within our residence halls that enhance the academic environment as well as other activities within the Bucknell community.
Interviewed by Molly O'Brien-Foelsch
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