The development and maintenance of healthy interpersonal relationships should be an integral part of every NYU student’s experience. Whether building relationships with professors, friends, co-workers, romantic partners, roommates, or nurturing existing relationships at home, NYU students find themselves involved with other people in every facet of their lives. Positive, functional interpersonal relationships have been shown to enhance students’ academic motivation, engagement, and achievement.1 NYU plays a fundamental role in helping students hone their interpersonal communication and interaction skills in order to set the standard for happy, healthy relationships in their future.
Universities are made up of diverse students interacting and challenging one another as they learn from, respect, and build on each other’s experiences and perspectives. Learning experiences and the relationships within can serve as a model for students to think about and shape the ways in which they will interact with the other groups in their lives -- family, friends, roommates/living partners, and co-workers. Below are suggestions for leveraging educational opportunities to model effective problem solving and conflict resolution, respectful communication, and professional boundaries to help students build and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships throughout their lives.
• Make respectful interactions a part of the class syllabus by establishing a safe classroom when setting course rules and expectations, inviting full participation from students while remaining aware of individual students’ comfort with public speaking or self-disclosure, acknowledging students’ feelings and validating their contributions to the class, and making connections among your students to help them see what they have in common.
• Challenge your students to interact and work with new peers. By creating group assignments, you not only give students the chance to meet new classmates and participate in class in a different way, you also give them the opportunity to gain experience in working with others, organization and problem solving, and trying out new leadership and communication roles. Working in groups can sometimes present challenges for students with differing work styles and personalities. Take some time to explain the goals of working in a group, acknowledge the difficulties it may present, and how to effectively resolve potential conflicts within the group.
• Incorporate social media into the course so that students can participate in a dialogue that expands beyond the class period. There is a multitude of ways and preferences by which students communicate and form social connections – some students prefer to speak in class, while others might be more comfortable with online written exchanges. Social media can provide an opportunity for students to participate in dialogue that expands beyond the class period. For instance, instead of having students write a one page response to the reading, ask them to post to the class blog. They can attach links to their own twitter or website from this blog, encouraging other classmates to follow them or engage in conversation outside of class that ultimately could turn into long-lasting friendships. Should your curriculum recommend or require the use of social media, remind students about cyberbullying, online stalking, and how to stay safe online. Address inappropriate content, and if necessary, report any threatening behavior to the Office of Community Standards and Compliance, Public Safety, or the Wellness Exchange.
• Provide opportunities for positive social engagement, support, and formation of friendships. Successful engagement with a social group impacts students’ academic experience. Students who are strongly socially connected are more likely to remain in school and report satisfaction with their university.17 These strong social ties improve health outcomes among those with serious health problems and also have a preventive effect for healthy people.18
o At the beginning of the semester, ask students to exchange contact information with at least two classmates. This exercise provides students with peer resources if they have questions about the coursework and will also allow them to form relationships with their classmates.
o Use existing social media platforms to strengthen social connections among classmates. Along with e-mail address, provide space for students to post their Facebook, twitter, blog, tumblr, or personal website information on Blackboard.
o Promote friendships in the classroom; encourage students to announce extracurricular events and ask for support in their outside endeavors. Participating in events outside of class together can help students build or strengthen social connections.
o Facilitate student interaction through service opportunities. Organize a one-day volunteer project for your class through NYU Service Connect or visit the NYU Center for Student Activities, Leadership and Service on the 7th floor of the Kimmel Center for University Life to find out more information on getting involved in long-term service projects as well as one-day projects.
• Get to know your students, and allow them to get to know you. Opportunities offered by faculty for relationship building are critical to easing students’ processes of adapting to the university setting.19 One example might be to start the first class of the semester with an icebreaker game, such as going around the room and asking each individual share something funny or unique about themselves; making sure to include yourself in the activity.
• Implement programming within your department that encourages students coming in and out of the office to interact. A college environment has the power to impact the values of its students, however subtly, through “its effect on the nature and content of student interaction with faculty and peers”.20 Opportunities and programming that support and encourage positive interpersonal interactions can increase students’ academic motivation, engagement, and achievement.21
Example: Media in the Morning: The Media, Culture, and Communication academic advisors host “Media in the Morning” every Wednesday so that students coming in and out of the MCC offices can stop, grab a bagel, and interact with peers that they otherwise would not have the chance to meet
• Be a mentor. Your role as a mentor or advisor can contribute to a student’s sense of belonging in the university community, which can positively impact his or her ability to cope effectively with stressed, and also serve as a model of a healthy, professional relationship. The Wasserman Center for Career Development has an extensive mentor network for students and faculty.
• Participate in ACT institute. In making diversity a priority at NYU, the Center for Multicultural Education and Programs presents interactive training sessions, thought-provoking presentations, and innovative educational activities that enhance and encourage a deeper understanding of the multicultural nature of our campus community. Through diversity education, this program seeks to develop and create a sensitive, safe, respectful, and inclusive campus environment. The Administrators Cultural Training Institute (ACT-I) is a professional development opportunity for administrators and graduate students interested in issues of equity and education. Sign up online for a session.
• Become an LGBTQ Ally. Creating a university environment that is sensitive, safe, respectful and inclusive supports and encourages positive interpersonal interactions. Sign up online for Safe Zoning training.
Responding to a student in need
• Encourage students who have disclosed having relationship problems to access Counseling and Wellness Services at the Student Health Center. Nearly one-third of NYU students experienced difficulties with relationships, family problems and/or problems with intimate relationships so severe to have adversely affected their academic performance.22 Refer students to the Wellness Exchange or suggest students call 212-443-9999.
• Email students with two unexplained absences from class. Two unexplained absences or frequently missed assignments can be signs of emerging emotional difficulties Letting students know via email that you’ve noticed can be good way to show a student that you care and a first step in connecting them with necessary support services. The email could be as simple as: “I’ve noticed you’ve been absent from class multiple times.Are you ok? Please let me know if you want to talk or if I can be of any help to you.”
• Be alert to signs of personal or psychological difficulties. If you notice any of the following signs, you can ask to meet privately with the student:
o Mood: extreme sadness, anger or anxiety, or mood swings
o Performance: concentration difficulties, deteriorating performance, unexplained absences or lateness
o Social behavior: extreme withdrawal, dependency, irritability, hostility
o Speech or writings: student alludes to problems, feeling worthless, excessive guilt, thoughts of death or suicide, or thoughts of hurting others or threats to others
For suggestions about how to effectively approach a student, visit the Wellness Exchange website or call 212-443-9999 to seek advice on how to address the situation.