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Cultivating Community on Campus in the Wake of COVID-19

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We ask today’s students to be resilient, to overcome gaping challenges, and to respect the education system’s need to return to its ‘well-adjusted’ functioning. A blindspot in this approach? Students’ hierarchy of needs. 

Where is the attention to encouraging love and belonging, not to mention providing opportunities for building self esteem amongst students? 

In this article, we’ll explore ways educators and institutions can apply Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to better support their campus and student communities’ mental health. 


What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a framework to remind ourselves of what we need to reach our full potential as humans. This framework is deeply tied to the call to action for educators to recognize and meet their students' needs. Ultimately, when understanding the power of love and belonging, while exploring tools to cultivate a supportive community of peers on campus, institutions can take student success to a whole new level. 

According to American psychologist Abraham Maslow, in order for a person to be ‘well-adjusted’ they must have five needs met. These needs range from basic, lower order needs to higher order needs:

Image via Simply Psychology


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Education, and COVID-19

With the onset of the pandemic, focusing on basic needs and safety became more of a priority than it was before. This is largely due to the fact that many people’s employment, education and daily routines were forced to abruptly change. 

For quite some time throughout the pandemic, finding ways to keep oneself safe and healthy was the only capacity people could manage to focus on. In a time of crisis and uncontrollable challenges, the only opportunity for people to gain control back was to focus on one’s basic needs and safety. So, naturally, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization, as set forth in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, fell by the wayside for many.

Maslow’s levels of love and belonging, esteem and pursuit of self-actualization are deeply embedded in the world of education. We have seen the direct effects of the deprioritization of these needs in education through what many deem as ‘The Pandemic Learning Loss’. Included in this phenomenon of learning loss are academic achievement gaps, as well as major social-emotional learning gaps increasingly present in students. 


Why the widespread loss?

When considering the root of these trends, it is important to reflect on the thousands upon thousands of canceled events, intra and extracurricular activities, and ceremonial educational rites of passage. This disruption  of ‘normalcy’ in belonging, in and at school, increased the likelihood that a student’s needs for love and belonging and esteem during this time went unmet. This becokend a phenomenon of grief for typical social development milestones, translating later into record high statistics in anxiety and depression diagnosis in children and adolescents.

As a society, we have now entered an era of response and rebuilding. The existence of great loss and achievement gaps are loud and present. However, with careful time spent to address the levels of love and belonging and esteem amongst students, the insurmountable can indeed become surmountable. 


Understanding  students’ needs:

The world of education has been tasked with many things – one major charge being a return to action. Scrambling to adapt technologies, implement new teaching methods, and consistently adapt contingency plans, the education system successfully found a way to meet their basic and safety needs quickly. The achievement of which can be best depicted by the successful return to schools and in-person learning environments. 

Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the system – students – are frozen in their development. 


Fulfilling students’ needs 

A solution to encourage social-emotional development restoration in students, simply put, is creating a culture of connection and belonging. Community-building within an education landscape provides the opportunity for students to restore the upper levels of their hierarchy of needs. With this being said, there are many practices to cultivate a community on campus. Specifically, peer learning and tutoring are continuing to grow as widely implemented and accepted practices to encourage a culture of connection and belonging. 

Platforms like Knack, which connect qualified tutors with students from the very same campus, empower colleges and universities to forge connections between students who may otherwise would have never met. This fosters community bonding, while offering meaningful employment opportunities and increased accessibility for tutoring, forgoing traditional restrictions on available hours, courses available, and tutoring exclusively in person. 


When it comes to education, it is the imperative to provide every student with an opportunity to succeed. While the COVID-19 pandemic has confronted the education system with unprecedented challenges, it also has inspired new, holistic approaches and best practices for educators. Ultimately with respect to students’ hierarchy of needs, educators and institutions can holistically repair and rebuild to create a new landscape and community that fosters student success, equity and belonging.