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Report: 15 Ways to Promote Safe Student Behaviors on Campus During COVID

The National Academies has issued a new "rapid expert consultation" on dealing with student behavior on campus tied to COVID-19. The report is intended to help college leaders prepare for the spring 2021 semester, which begins at many schools after the winter break. It was developed in partnership with Societal Experts Action Network, a group of university experts pulled together by the National Academies to develop evidence-based recommendations for supporting response during the pandemic.

The report, "Encouraging Protective COVID-19 Behaviors Among College Students," provides strategies for encouraging students to behave in ways that will help stem the spread of COVID infections on college campuses. It includes 10 communication tips and five "habit-promoting" tips.

On the communication front, the guide advised readers to develop their strategies in collaboration with students. Its recommendations encompass:

  • Using clear and consistent messaging;
  • Avoiding calling too much attention to "socially undesirable behaviors" and giving more emphasis to personal responsibility;
  • Fostering "efficacy" and avoiding fatalism by emphasizing making positive choices;
  • Appealing to the "collective good" of one's own community;
  • Using "trusted messengers" to get the word out, such as external influencers on social media or on-campus personalities;
  • "Tailoring the message to the audience; rather than focusing on health risks, which tends to be ineffective for college students, the message might cover how activities will be curtailed should infections increase";
  • Tying prevention behaviors to identifiers, such as dorms, clubs or teams;
  • Highlighting "social disapproval" without overemphasizing the risks;
  • Highlighting the growth of changing behaviors, using "positive" messages; and
  • Avoiding the repetition of misinformation, even when you want to debunk it.

To get students to pick up the right habits, the report advised:

  • Making the behavior easy to "start and repeat";
  • Making it rewarding to repeat (such as "turning masks into status symbols" or introducing some competitive element to the wearing of masks;
  • Tying it to an existing habit, such as using reminders that come through via smartphone;
  • Alerting students to behaviors that conflict with the right habits and providing alternative behaviors, such as showing them how to interact with others safely; and
  • Providing specific descriptions of the desired behaviors, such as inviting students to find creative ways to designate what six feet apart looks like.

Even as some students are disregarding the messages their schools are delivering on protective measures, "anecdotally, most college students are following or want to follow the rules while finding ways to engage in social interaction and other typical college behaviors," the report stated. "Many are looking to campus leaders for clear guidance and supports for staying safe."

The report is available with free registration on the National Academics Press website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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