“Suitcase School” Mentality

As Student Affairs Educators, many of us have engaged students in conversations about their college experience, often to hear positive comments about exciting life-changing experiences and once in a lifetime opportunities. However, there are the times when we hear dreadful replies such as, “there is nothing to do on campus,” or “I don’t stay on the weekends, this is a suitcase school.”

Needless to say, for those of us who invest a lot of time in programming for students, it is a huge disappointment to hear frustrated comments about our campus being a suitcase school with nothing to do.

As an educator, if you have ever been on the receiving end of negative remarks, it is important to reflect on a few key aspects of your programming:

  • Who plans and hosts events and programs on your campus?
  • Is your programming creative and/or innovative?
  • How much time, energy, and funding do you invest in advertising?

Many of our institutions have student-run organizations that host programs, be it a programming board or a diverse group of clubs and organizations. Traditionally these organizations host campus-wide or more specific niche programs, having significant turnout in student support for both weeknight and weekend programming. Yet, when it comes to our department events, we often struggle to capture the attention of all students or even draw a sizable crowd, especially when it comes to weekend programming.

The Office of Student Activities at Drew University is currently one year into exploring a student-centered programming model, focused on teaching students how to be leaders and event planners. In the Spring 2010 semester, Drew Student Activities created their first Weekend Activities Team, a concept that has been in the works at other colleges such as Bridgewater State University. At Drew University, this approach to programming involves training and empowering students to think creatively about various aspects of successful weekend programming: innovative advertising, alcohol-free alternatives, and exciting events and activities. This model also requires a redistribution of funding within the office budget to provide the student programmers with adequate training, leadership development and resources for events.

An ironic aspect to this programming model, is that the events and even the advertising methods the Weekend Activities Team utilizes are not only similar, but often identical to the weekend events hosted and advertised by the Office of Student Activities in previous semesters. Let’s give ourselves some credit as Student Affairs Educators, with all of our education and training, we can be creative at times! However, the reason for the success utilizing this weekend programming model is the best part about establishing a Weekend Activities Team; the investment piece on behalf of the greater student population.

Invested and engaged students love programming for their peers, and what is even better, their peers love supporting the events they plan. Events hosted by staff members for students does not always draw a crowd like student-created events often do, especially when it comes to programming on weekends. Since the creation of the Weekend Activities Team at Drew University, there has been a significant decrease in complaints about a lack of weekend activities, as well as a significant increase in attendance at weekend events. There have even been enthusiastic comments from students, looking forward to the weekend activities line-up. Who would have thought that the student perspective could transition in just one year’s time from complaining about their suitcase campus to boasting about and inviting their peers from other institutions to events on their campus?!

As with all mentalities on our campuses, the “suitcase school” mentality is simply all about perspective. At Drew University, getting students excited about taking ownership of weekend programming drastically shifted the interest and experience of our greater student population. Here’s to hoping that more of the challenging mentalities that exist on our campuses can be overcome by engaging our students to assist us in creating positive change.

Michelle L. Brisson
mbrisson@drew.edu

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