Key Principles for Student-Led Initiatives
Why should students play a key role in a mentally healthy campus when so many others are working towards the same goal? These others are administration, community groups, local and provincial governments, and non-profit organizations.
There are four main reasons that student leadership and participation are integral to the mentally healthy campus.
1. The Whole System
A holistic, systemic viewpoint is table stakes for dealing with complex adaptive challenges like fostering mental wellness. And since students are a central group within the system, they must be engaged contributors for any serious effort to have legitimacy. To shift the system efficiently, effectively, and sustainably requires contributions from all groups within the system in order to co-create insight and solutions. Such co-creation requires collaborating with students rather than simply providing programs for students.
2. The Student Experience
The student experience provides a touchstone within the system as a whole. Even when people have different perspectives, a common understanding of the student experience allows for better alignment and collaboration. By understanding the overall experience of students, both student leaders and other collaborators can focus their efforts more effectively. But too often, reference to the student experience is either lip service or only a high-level abstraction. Students bring the immediacy of their lived experience to understanding, defining, and focusing on the student experience.
3. Student Led
Student-led activities are conceived, designed, managed, and evaluated by students. These activities fill a role and achieve outcomes that no other contributor’s work can fulfill. Activities include peer counseling, cultural and social activities that promote health and reduce stigma, and endorsing other collaborators so that those contributors gain legitimacy with the student population.
Student leaders also try things outside the bounds of typical intervention. They do this because they are not locked into a narrow view of how mental health should be encouraged. This provides a foundation for innovation that is crucial for moving beyond the status quo.
4. Catalysts and Connectors
Student leaders are under no illusions of achieving a mentally healthy campus all on their own. Because of their limited resources and terms of service, student leaders should become catalysts and conveners. They draw the community together, including administration, faculty, staff, the student body, health care providers, and the wider community. This connector role can help all actors collaborate, even through simple awareness of each other’s activities. Students do not have the resources to effectively act independently at the scale needed for a mentally healthy campus. Collaboration is key.