Building a “New Normal” at the Academic Success Center & Writing Center

by Chris Gasser

Grey clouds, early sunsets, drivers cutting each other off at the Harrison Bridge; for the first time in two years, things almost look normal at Oregon State. As we return to campus it is easy to forget that we just spent the last two years in higher ed. surviving, both in a literal and figurative sense. Throughout the emergency measures of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a strong sense (and a lot of anxiety) about what the new normal would look like. At the Academic Success Center & Writing Center, we spent a lot of time thinking about how we could create something new and better, rather than returning to how things were. We heard it a lot, “we can’t go back to the way things were”, and we embraced that.  One overarching question we found helpful was “what have we done differently during the COVID-19 pandemic that was better than what we were doing before?” This question, combined with specific questions focused on important areas of our work, led us to these strategies:

  • Prioritizing health for student staff and participants over service delivery and numbers
    • Do our policies and practices encourage staff to come to work when sick or students to access services when sick? How and where might we change/impact that behavior?
  • Seeking out employee feedback in major (and minor) decisions
    • What decisions are we making about student staff and service delivery? Do people affected by our decisions have an opportunity to inform those decisions? When and how are we inviting feedback from student staff?
  • Delivering clear guidance and processes on valuable resources for our community
    • What information might not be getting to students? How can we use our platforms as supervisors and program leaders to support students in understanding and navigating policies and resources? What messaging can we proactively highlight and signal boost to the benefit of student staff?
  • Focusing on community— building relationships within our teams and with our campus partners
    • What are we doing to foster relationships amongst our team? How do we create a sense of community and belonging across modalities? How often does community building show up as a part of our agendas and structured time?
  • Creating a culture of support where staff and students are encouraged to bring their humanity, with all the messiness that it involves
    • What do we convey to students about the way their lives show up in their work? What space do we make for sharing about their lives outside of work? How do we define professionalism in a way that lets them be autonomous human beings and not robots?

While we don’t suggest that we are perfect, in our return to campus or otherwise, we are excited that our new normal is a more compassionate one. It’s more nuanced, more human. We value flexibility, intentionality, and sometimes saying no when our plates are full. We’ve done a lot of thinking about the new normal we want to create. We share some of that thinking in our annual report, and we invite you to read it here.

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