3 Ways You as a Professor Can Make Your College Students Feel Safer

3 Ways You as a Professor Can Make Your College Students Feel Safer

The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly taken its toll on everyone. While a lot of attention has been focused on the impact it has had on frontline healthcare workers, essential workers and young children, though, many people have overlooked how it has affected college students.

Even when they are attending college straight out of high school, many people think of post-secondary students as full-fledged adults. While the vast majority are, of course, adults in the eyes of the law, they still face many of the same challenges as younger students. Most human brains are not fully developed until the age of 25, so it should come as no surprise that many college students have the same fears and anxieties as their high-school-age counterparts.

As a college professor, it’s up to you to help your students feel safe as they pursue their higher education goals. While you don’t need to teach them how to wash their hands like a kindergarten teacher might need to teach their students, you can still do things to make them feel safer, like wearing men’s scrub tops to work or using antimicrobial laundry detergent to keep your clothes extra clean. Keep reading to discover a few ways you, as a professor, can make your college students feel safer while attending your classes.

Abide by CDC Guidelines in the Classroom

Abiding by the guidelines set forth by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is one of the best ways to let your students know that you take their health seriously and make them feel safer in the classroom. While most people don’t enjoy practicing social distancing or sanitizing their hands several times throughout the day, they know that doing so is the best way to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Communicate the importance of these safety measures to students, but be careful when doing so. Students need to be aware of why certain precautions are being taken and why certain changes have to be made. There is a fine line, though, between making them feel confident that you are taking steps to protect them and making them fear being in a classroom due to the potential risks.

During these challenging times, safety is not something that should be taken lightly. While there are, of course, some people who are much less concerned about the virus than others, it is best to set a good example for your students by following CDC guidelines and upholding campus policies in your classroom. Doing so will encourage them to take appropriate precautions themselves, and it will also give those more-concerned students a greater sense of safety and security.

Normalize Masks

While very few people actually like masks, research has proven that they are effective in slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Though uncomfortable to many people, they have played a huge role in colleges and universities being able to reopen in the midst of a global pandemic. And while vaccines are becoming more widely available, masks will likely be part of our lives for several months — or longer.

For colleges, taking steps to normalize masks can make many students feel safer while encouraging others to abide by mask requirements.

So, how can you normalize masks?

Lyon College, a small private college in Arkansas, launched a campaign aimed at encouraging students to wear masks. The institution also tries to make sure that everyone pictured on their social media profiles is wearing a mask. There are photos of students and faculty members wearing masks, as well as images that have — with permission — been edited to include masks bearing the campaign slogan “Stay safe, Scots.”

West Virginia University is also using its social media profiles to showcase photos of students wearing masks. Students were also encouraged to sign up for a free mask prior to the beginning of the fall semester. In exchange for the freebie, they were asked to share pictures of themselves wearing the university’s official mask.

In both of these instances, the goal is clear: to normalize the wearing of masks. Seeing photos of students and faculty members wearing masks reinforces the idea that masking up is normal and encourages other students to follow suit. For those who are anxious about attending college amid a pandemic, the photos also serve as a powerful tool for making them feel safer. Even if you are among the many people who hate wearing a mask, doing so while you’re on campus can make a huge difference to your students.

Be Willing to Listen

As a college professor, it’s easy to forget that many of the students you teach aren’t much more mentally mature than high school students. Incoming freshmen still have many of the same fears and anxieties as younger students plus the ones that accompany being a new college student.

Keep in mind, too, that none of today’s college students grew up imagining that their college experience would be filled with masks and social distancing rather than study groups and parties.

Showing a willingness to discuss COVID fears with your students is one of the best — and easiest — ways to help put their minds at ease. While your busy schedule may not always allow you to have long, in-depth conversations with your students, finding time to help those who are struggling with COVID-related anxiety can make a huge difference. Your willingness to provide a listening ear and some helpful advice could even help them decide to remain in school despite their concerns.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to what teachers can expect in 2021 due to the coronavirus, one thing is for certain: Many students will remain anxious about learning in a traditional classroom setting. Because thoughts on large-scale long-distance web-based teaching in colleges and universities vary, many students aren’t sure whether attending in-person classes is safe. As a professor, you can make your students feel safer by following the suggestions outlined above.


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