Managing the Return to Campus – Part III

Returning to a Campus that Feels Unsafe & Managing Concerns about COVID-19

Young masked woman sitting outside alone thinking with a concerned expression

This is the third of three segments focused on issues associated with returning to campus after the pandemic. This segment focuses on navigating an environment that feels unsafe and managing COVID-19 concerns. There are four skills shared in this segment. Part I of the Return to Campus materials focuses on coping with lost opportunities and milestones while Part II focuses on the new social environment and the changing learning environment.

Returning to a Campus that Feels Unsafe to You

Although college campuses are safe spaces for many students, that’s unfortunately not true for all of us. Many students can face discrimination due to their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or other aspects of their identity. Furthermore, issues related to bullying, harassment, and violence continue to be a major problem at campuses in the United States. In this segment of the Care Package, we describe some steps that we can take if we are worried about not feeling safe when we return to campus.

Skill 1: Seek out support

Many colleges have staff and even centers devoted to students facing challenges or safety concerns. For example, many campuses have centers for LGBTQ, immigrant, and racial and ethnic minority students that provide terrific resources. Learn what resources exist on your campus and engage with them before you have a need.

As well, look for accepting and supportive friends, faculty, staff, doctors, counselors, and faith leaders who could help you. If you can’t find what you need on campus, look up resources in your local community or online. Consider writing down a list of people so you know who to reach out to if you’re ever in crisis.

Skill 2: Get involved with change

When faced with injustice, discrimination, unfairness, and harassment, we often feel powerless. Getting involved with positive social change can give us a sense of control and purpose. Many campuses have student-led organizations that do volunteer and advocacy work to make their campuses and communities safer and more accepting places. Consider joining one of them – or even just going to a meeting to see if getting involved feels right for you.

On your own for Skills 1 & 2: Put together a list of resources and campus organizations much like the Potential Helpers list featured in the Finding Order when you are Feeling Overwhelmed and the Recovering from Trauma & Grief segments of the COVID-19 Care Package. Reaching out and connecting with these organizations may help you connect with people with similar values and concerns with whom you might activate change.

Managing Concerns about COVID-19

Despite the widespread availability of the COVID-19 vaccine and the decline in cases, many of us will still have COVID-related anxiety after we return to campus. We may worry about unvaccinated or vulnerable family members contracting COVID-19. We may worry about catching the virus despite being vaccinated, or about new variants developing.

It is normal and even healthy to have a moderate degree of anxiety about COVID-19. We should do what we need to feel safe and comfortable, which might include wearing masks or thorough cleaning. Below we describe some skills that can help manage this anxiety when it becomes excessive or when challenges and conflicts arise.

Skill 3: Get informed and stay informed

Every college in the US is trying to adapt to the evolving challenges of the pandemic. Even as those in leadership roles try to do what’s best for their students, they may not fully address all aspects of their students’ experience. As a result, it is very important to learn what your college is doing to address COVID-19 and what rights you have as you return to campus.

One of the best ways to learn your rights is to become familiar with your campus’s policies on COVID-19. For example, UCLA has a regularly updated website about all aspects of COVID-19. Check to see if your campus has one as well.

Also consider researching online to find out what guidelines exist from reputable organizations like the U.S. Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you can’t find the information and help you need, reach out to a trusted campus source such as a member of your Student Affairs office, an academic advisor, a physician in the health center, or a staff member in residential life.

Skill 4: Assert your needs

Although it’s essential to know what our rights and resources are, this might not be helpful if we don’t feel able to ask for what we need. There are several reasons we may have trouble asking for what we need clearly and effectively:

  • We might be shy by nature.
  • We might worry we’ll be a burden on others.
  • We might not be confident we can communicate our needs understandably.
  • We might fear rejection or retribution if we make demands.
  • We might feel hopeless and think there’s no point asking because no one will help us.

Whatever the reason we may struggle with asking for help, it’s completely understandable. But it’s also important for our health to be able to ask for help when we need it. In earlier segments of the Care Package (Finding Order when you are Feeling Overwhelmed & Handling the Stress of Returning to Work) we shared the DEAR MAN exercise which provides a framework for asserting needs. We find this to be a helpful strategy.

If you have a setback when asserting yourself, don’t give up! If you reach out to someone and they don’t respond or tell you they can’t or won’t give you what you need, don’t assume that this is how everyone will respond when you reach out to them. Remember, each person is unique and may react in a different way. If one person can’t give you what you need, move on to the next person and see if you get a different result.

On your own: review and practice the DEAR MAN exercise.

Final thoughts on managing the return to campus

Over the past few segments of the COVID-19 Care Package, we reviewed a selection of challenges that students could face as they returned to campus. Returning to college after 18 months of remote learning is a major life transition – it’s normal to experience anxiety, sadness, and other negative emotions when facing a major transition like this.

We are confident that the skills in these segments will help students navigate the many challenges they will face as they return to campus. We hope students will successfully integrate these skills into their personal toolkits and manage the new challenges so they may better experience the many social and educational benefits of returning to campus.  

Downloadable resources to use on your own

Information Sheet:

Pre-Work List:

How-to Guide: