Illustration of face-masked students perched on books working on laptops and iPads


Building a Community of Care

September 9, 2020

When the world rang in 2020, no one could have predicted what the new year would present. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we live and interact with others. Then, with the death of George Floyd, the United States was faced with racial inequalities and many protesting social injustices. That’s a lot to process in just a few months.

At the “We’re in This Together: A Community of Resources to Support our Students” discussion on September 4, New York Institute of Technology faculty and staff learned about ways to support students and how to be a resource for one another during these difficult and uncertain times.

The discussion, led by Tiffani L. Blake, M.Ed., assistant provost for student engagement and development, kicked off with Associate Professor of English Jennifer Griffiths, Ph.D., who spoke about trauma-informed pedagogy. She explained that much of what happens in society can be brought into the classroom and affect a student’s performance. As educators, Griffiths said, there are ways to help a student in need. “I’m not a clinician. We’re not talking about faculty roles as clinicians,” she explained. “We’re talking about our resources and creating a climate of care and mitigating the negative aspects of this experience.”

Griffiths recommended checking in regularly with students and providing feedback opportunities, becoming aware of support services and promoting a climate of support, cultivating student agency in their learning process, and recognizing the whole student. “Ask them: ‘You don’t seem connected today. Can I help you in some way?’ Remind them about office hours. Part of that is not reading student behavior as a way that needs to be managed and controlled, but providing a climate of support,” she said.

If a student is having trouble, faculty and staff can find ways to help them shape the learning process, give them choices within an assignment, or make them part of the course planning. “This doesn’t undermine our authority. We gain credibility as human beings, and we’re all in this together,” she said.

Associate Dean of Students Zennabelle Sewell explained there are behaviors to look for and that faculty should reach out to the dean of students if a student is not attending class regularly or submitting assignments, if a student appears to be a threat to themselves or the community, or if a student is not following the university’s code of conduct. Sewell also pointed out that students may take a medical withdrawal if they are unable to finish out the semester.

For students who find themselves in a difficult financial situation, there are resources they can seek out, Sewell explained. The New York Tech Care Grant helps students by offering up to $1,000 to cover immediate needs such as loss of housing, loss of childcare services, recent job loss, and overdue bills, among other situations. The Student Emergency Fund provides one-time assistance of up to $500 to New York City and Long Island campus students to address financial challenges that jeopardize their ability to stay in school. It was created in 2020 to assist students impacted financially by unforeseen circumstances during a disaster or crisis.

The Advising and Enrichment Center (AEC) provides advising and academic support. If a student is exhibiting any kind of behavior that may prevent them from having a successful semester, faculty are encouraged to contact the AEC. “The important take-home is you reach out so that we can help get the student the resources that they need as soon as possible,” said Monika Rohde, associate dean of academic advising, enrichment, and enrollment services. “One of the things we’re going to do is reach out to students and see how they’re doing. We’ll make the calls.”

“We’re experiencing collective trauma as a society,” said Tiffany Ciprian, associate director of counseling and wellness. To help students deal with the stress and trauma during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Counseling and Wellness Centers sent students Bear Packages, with resources and information on group counseling and confidential consultations through Let’s Teletalk as well as tips on how to ease anxiety.

Faculty, who are on the front line and often the first ones to spot concerning student behavior in their students, can play an important role in building a community of care in support of student success. “We’re so thankful to all of the faculty who have been so responsive and compassionate,” said Rohde.