Student needs are ever-changing, so universities must be proactive when evaluating ways to support them. Whether it be food, housing, mental health insecurity — or something else — university leaders and staff should be prepared to adapt to various needs.
Yvonne Hernandez Friedman, Vice President for Student Affairs at Coastal Carolina University, sat down with Charles Sin, Co-host of The Interview, to discuss how she tackles these problems, the initiatives she is most proud of, and the challenges faced post-pandemic.
I’m currently the Vice President for Student Affairs at Coastal Carolina University. Coastal is a university with about 10,000 students. We have a good mixture of in-state and out-of-state students; first-generation students; PEL Grant-eligible students. It’s a little gem — we aren’t a huge school, but we have all the fun stuff with a vibrant population in a great location.
I didn’t know this field existed when I was in school — I never knew I always wanted to do it. I worked in the non-profit field for a while; I taught high school too. I always knew I wanted to work with young people but didn’t know how. It wasn’t until much later when I thought I’d go to law school, which felt like the only thing I could do with my bachelor’s in political science but happened to hear about student affairs. After discovering the field, I researched and was amazed to learn about it. Two weeks later, I was accepted into a program, and the doors opened. Ever since then, I have loved it. It has been my calling, and I’ve been in the field for twenty years.
One of the biggest things on our campus that we need to work on is helping students fully understand what it means to be civically engaged. Sometimes I hear that students want to protest something without truly understanding what it means. They need to be able to listen to what others have to say and be truly open and understanding of where different people come from. So we’re teaching students about this and what a welcoming environment looks like. We promote the philosophy of seeking to understand over seeking to impose, which can happen on any end of the political spectrum.
The biggest thing I can do to impart community is to be able to have those individual conversations with students. We are all human; there will be times when you need help, regardless of what it is. Whether it's housing, food, or emotional insecurity. We all come across different types of needs. And when events focus on helping others and forming individual relationships with people, we can create meaningful connections. Showing up is incredibly important. We need to be sensitive to everyone’s circumstances.
Showing up is incredibly important. We need to be sensitive to everyone’s circumstances.
I did work cooking lasagna for families called Lasagna Love. Sometimes you need to text the recipient to ensure their dietary needs, and you might feel exasperated by someone’s needs or the time they take to reply. But something that might seem like a quick, easy text for me might be very different for someone else because our circumstances might differ vastly. They might be working out where they’re sleeping that night. We need to have that humanity and understanding not only on our campus but in general.
The most important thing is to educate students on having the privilege of free speech and allow others to practice free speech as well. Some of our newer professionals and our students can struggle with hearing an opposing viewpoint. It can feel like their rights to free speech are being infringed upon because of conflicting views. But it comes down to education — ultimately, we need everyone to have protected speech.
We are creating more intentional training around this. Workshops that help and prepare people for these situations. At the end of the day, as an administrator, I can only control time, place, and manner — I can’t and don’t want to control content. The only caveat to that is when the speech is hateful. You can have differing viewpoints without hurting communities. That is key.
People are different post-Covid. One of the most important things I can do as an administrator is ask what students' needs are. The amount of mental health concerns is astronomical. We need to be able to get to the root of that and must be more sensitive than ever before. Putting resources into mental health, psychological safety, food, and housing insecurity is a big focus.