The Role of Recreation in Returning to Campus

returning to campus

While colleges and universities across the country have been returning to in-person living and learning at different rates over this past school year, in the state of New Jersey things have remained primarily virtual. Since March 2020, the majority of students at William Paterson University have lived at home while taking virtual courses.

However, things have recently started to open back up again. We are all very much looking forward to a full return to campus in the fall. However, it’s important to remember the student body is not returning to the same way of life. It is not simply returning to normal. Instead, we are venturing into a new normal. Recreation professionals are in a unique position to provide support for our students in various ways.

Let’s take a look at what to keep in mind as we embark on returning to campus.

Promoting Healthy Minds and Bodies

As students prepare to return to campus, they will likely reflect on what they have gone through over the last year. This can dig up a well of complicated emotions. Whether they have experienced the illness firsthand or not, each of their lives has undeniably changed. The pandemic has affected each of their lives in a so many ways. There is no “typical” experience.

And regardless of their personal experience, returning to campus might serve as a reminder, or trigger, to students about what they have missed or struggled with. Going to class in person, reuniting with friends and attending campus events may bring students face to face with the reality that an entire year of their life has passed. These realizations may increase feelings of depression, anxiety, sadness, anger, etc. Offerings provided by Recreation Services that encourage students and give them the opportunity to be physically active, practice mindfulness and meditation, and connect socially with other members of the campus community, will allow students to rejuvenate emotionally and physically.

Create Memorable Experiences in Returning to Campus

The fall semester will be the first time on campus for incoming freshman. And it will also feel like a new experience for students across each grade level, as well. Many of the incoming sophomores spent their freshman year at home doing school virtually. At the same time, many of the incoming juniors have most likely not experienced more than one full semester on campus. So, returning to campus this fall will undoubtedly be an exciting time for many students.

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This excitement, however, will also come with pent up anticipation and demand for programs and special events. Students will be looking forward to and expecting the full college experience. This includes the opportunity to participate in fun events and programs. Recreation departments are positioned to provide the opportunity for students to participate in memorable experiences and create special memories. Intramural leagues, special events like all-nighters and pool parties, and adventure trips are all programs that will create meaningful experiences for students.

Socialization and Inclusivity

While recreation programs and events are often seen as a way for students to relax, destress and have some fun, the socialization aspect is more important than ever.

After a year or more of isolation and social distancing, students may feel anxious and nervous about being back on campus. This is especially true for those new to campus. Recreational departments have the opportunity to promote student well-being at a cultural level.

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Recreation should focus on inclusive events to bring students together and help them socialize, and feel part of something. Recreation staff have the unique opportunity to bring together and interact with diverse groups of students. Plus, they have the ability to be on the look out for students struggling with depression or anxiety. More importantly, recreation professionals should know where and how to provide information and make referrals to the appropriate campus resources.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Erin Stelma is the associate director for Recreational Services at William Paterson University. A New Jersey native, Erin earned her B.S. in Exercise Science at East Stroudsburg University and Masters of Business Administration at Saint Peter’s University. Throughout her 20-year career in the field, Erin has played a role in a variety of areas including health promotion, facility management, outdoor adventures, as well as staff training and development. However, her background is primarily rooted in both aquatics and fitness. She is also a huge advocate of holistic health and works to guide the campus community to optimal physical, spiritual and emotional well-being.

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