Beyond the Books: Creating a Campus Community
Barry Telford
Barry Telford
CEO, Universities West, Sodexo North America President, Sodexo Canada

For students, the college experience is a pivotal time of growth. Not only are these individuals learning new concepts and theories through their studies, many are also taking that first initial jump from childhood to adulthood as they navigate life with an increased sense of independence. Whether these students live on campus or commute from home, their experience at college shapes their first impression of life beyond the books. Because of this, providing the foundation for a robust campus community not only enhances the student experience but improves students’ quality of life. 

The broader idea behind creating a sense of community on campus is that it instills a sense of purpose in students’ lives. Regardless of the setting, when an individual experiences the inclusiveness of a community, their focus shifts from themselves, creating an obligation to others. This sense of obligation is accompanied by feelings of safety, acceptance and affirmation. Through communities we as individuals learn to value others and begin to understand our impact and contribution to the community. In turn, we develop a sense of belonging – a feeling we all need to live happily.

In the most recent edition of the President to President series, Dr. Santa J. Ono, president of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, describes the University’s plan to build campus commons; the purpose of the commons is to create an updated living experience to foster relationships among students and faculty. This dynamic approach to create a living and learning environment includes building four commons that are all-inclusive with dining areas, exercise and study facilities, daycare services and outdoor spaces. The University of British Columbia’s example shows how focusing on the wellbeing of students paves the way for academic excellence and improves the student journey.

We know from our work in Student Living in both the United Kingdom and Canada that students’ mental and physical health directly affects their comfort, confidence and connectedness within the campus community. By modifying the campus environment as a whole to promote practices necessary for healthy, happy lives – i.e., incorporating physical activity and proper nutrition, among other things – we will see a dramatic change in the attitudes and relationships fostered on campus to create the overarching theme of a college community.

Modern campus dining should provide students with proper nutrition and a convenient place to connect. According to a recent study, 6 in 10 students wished that campus dining reflected more of an experience – reiterating that what we fuel our bodies with is important, but how and where we do so matters, too. Whereas traditional dining halls were created to move students in and out in an assembly-line fashion, new dining halls should “enable more students to engage with each other, [and give] more introverted students a more gentle way to enter the space and the flow of community.” Additionally, adding more places to dine on campus not only gives students more food choices, it also provides more places to use as meeting spots to discover friends and to become a part of their campus home.

Similar to dining, students expect that recreational facilities on campus, like gymnasiums, will be more of an experience than just a workout. According to a study conducted by NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation, students state that one of the top reasons for participating in campus recreational activities and using facilities is that it allows them to meet new people and form relationships. The University of British Columbia in Vancouver used similar information in their campus commons plan to devise a bicycle facility to encourage physical activity and foster relationships while providing transportation for all members of the community.

In conclusion, we as influencers in the higher education sector understand that creating a sense of community on campus brings purpose to our students, leading them to live happier and more fulfilling lives. We also see that the integration of basic human necessities, such as eating and exercising, is multi-purposeful when associated with the student journey. Overall, fostering a college community takes students beyond the books and prepares them for a world beyond academia.

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