I recently had the chance to attend and present at the NASPA Annual Conference, an event that joins over 7,000 student affairs educators and professionals to examine the latest trends affecting every aspect of student life. NASPA is the leading association for the advancement, health and sustainability of the student affairs profession, and this year was the 100th anniversary of the conference.
While I sat in on many important and thought-provoking sessions, two core themes resonated strongly with my fellow attendees and myself: the growing importance of inclusivity, and the changing needs surrounding student wellness.
In regards to inclusivity, conversations focused on gender bias, how institutions can best serve first-generation students, and how facilities can become welcoming and inclusive environments for students from non-traditional or non-majority backgrounds. From an architectural perspective, we’ve seen rudimentary adjustments within the physical space made to address these issues – think gender inclusive bathrooms and locker rooms. But presenters showed inclusivity is moving beyond that and into terms of academic performance. They expressed that more services and resources need to be made available (and are currently being developed) to students to support increasingly varying academic needs. How these services and resources will resonate within the physical space remains to be seen, but it is clear there will be no “one size fits all” solution.
The definition of wellness is also changing on campus. We once thought of it as represented by a singular person (a counselor) in a single, small space (an office) that students could visit if they needed help. It was a reactive process. But student needs are changing, and institutions are refocusing and recalibrating to adapt. There were a number of discussions about counseling – how institutions are struggling with the surge of services in demand. Speakers discussed how different institutions are trying to address this using a combination of traditional services, outsourced services and wellness programs, and reducing the demand on counselors. How activities like wellness walks, yoga, stress-relief events, etc. are becoming more norm. Wellness is becoming more focused on preventative methods versus reactive.
It can be hard as architects to wrap our heads around how inclusivity and student wellness will affect our industry and our designs. But as we try to understand, we also need to stay apart of the discussion and keep listening – to what our clients are asking for, to what students are saying, to what activists are promoting. It’s an exciting time for student life, and our facilities will soon reflect it.