23 Essential Ways to Support Students Staying on Campus Over Thanksgiving Break

For many students, Thanksgiving is an exciting opportunity to give thanks, gather with friends and family, and take a break from the hustle and bustle of campus life.

But other students may not have the opportunity to leave campus for the break and will remain in their residence hall or off-campus apartment.

Students may want to stay on campus due to the cost and time commitment of travel or they may not have a safe or welcome place to go.

This presents a challenge for both students and staff as campus resources may be unavailable or sparse over the break.

So, how can SApros make sure that students who remain for the break are staying safe and have access to the resources they need, without overextending themselves? Here are some suggestions. 

Make stay-on policies as clear as possible.

Stay-on policies can be extremely confusing for students. It’s also important for SApros, dining staff, facilities operations, campus safety, and other staff to have a clear headcount of students who are staying on campus for break.

These ideas can help you prepare:

1. Post info on social media, share flyers, and send out emails weeks ahead of time to ask students to give official notice if they plan to stay on campus for the break. You could even have RAs go door to door with a QR code or slip flyers under doors. Easiest yet, have them fill out a digital form that you advertise on each student’s mobile engagement portal.

2. Have RAs facilitate a quick hall meeting about official closure dates and times and what students can expect, regarding campus resources, if they remain in the halls.

3. Highlight access to mental health counseling, transportation, dining, facilities, maintenance, athletics, food pantries, parking, libraries, and other resources students may want to use over break. Publicize the hours these offices will be open, along with phone numbers and/or email addresses students can use to get in touch with related personnel should an emergency arise outside of those hours.

4. Create a web page or social media flyer that answers FAQs students may have if they plan to stay on campus — such as if ID cards will work for residence hall entry, campus safety emergency contact information, and who to call if they are locked out.

Have your on-call plan prepared early.

In addition to students, campus staff may have questions about Thanksgiving Break.

5. Find a fair way to delegate who is on-call for the break, such as by asking for volunteers who planned on staying in town or rotating between staff on- call with spring and winter breaks.

6. Outline the expectations for responding to emergencies. For example, when I was on call for Thanksgiving break, res life staff were given a longer time to respond than usual, allowing local staff the flexibility to head home while staying on call.

7. Invite RAs, mental health counselors, dining hall staff, campus safety officers, and other essential staff to your break-planning meetings to provide feedback and information about their break duty plans and procedures.

8. Determine and share any special procedures with RAs, staff and students. For example, who should students call if they are locked out over break?

Connect students with each other.

Loneliness can easily find students who stay on campus for Thanksgiving break. Address it through providing students opportunities to stay connected.

9. RAs or campus activities professionals could create a social media group or temporary org within their student engagement portal for students to join if they want to connect with other students staying for break.

10. You could ask students  temporarily relocate their housing to a designated hall in order to lessen maintenance and staff needs, while also maintaining a space for socializing and building community.

11. Campus activities staff can encourage student organizations to host virtual get-togethers for their members over break or connect members who are staying with one another.

12. Encourage students to bring a friend or family member to their Thanksgiving celebration. Many students in my undergraduate hall would invite friends or roommates to stay with them for a day or two.

Provide a Thanksgiving meal.

13. Students may especially experience isolation on Thanksgiving day if they are feeling left out or removed from family traditions.

14. Host a Thanksgiving meal on campus. Sharing a meal can help students feel connected to the holiday, to the campus, and to each other. You could have an RA lead a potluck or ask dining services to create pre-made meals that could be heated up in a residence hall kitchen.

15. Be mindful of students with food allergies or restrictions, including vegetarians and vegans. Check out this resource on Thanksgiving foods that are compatible with common food sensitivities.

16. You could even have a fun cooking contest or deliver pre-packaged meals to students who are unable to attend a communal dinner.

Have a few activities up your sleeve.

17. Participating in a few pre-planned activities is another way students can combat loneliness. 

18. Virtual programming is a viable option to engage large numbers of students. Consider hosting workout classes, scavenger hunts, and trivia contests. You could invite students who are at home to participate too. Check out this list of 63 virtual group activities.

19. Passive programs — like take-home DIY kits, craft bags, or puzzles —, can help combat boredom even when students aren’t in the mood to socialize.

20. Take a look at this list of Thanksgiving activities for inspiration.

Prepare for the break.

Don’t forget these last steps.

21. Check your office’s smoke detectors, thermostats, and windows. Oregon State University has a handy checklist for students and staff to refer to before they leave the residence halls.

22. Share your contact info (as appropriate) with RAs and campus safety staff should an emergency arise.

23. Review FAQs and break emergency procedures so everyone will feel prepared and be on the same page.

Happy Thanksgiving break!

How do you prepare for campus closures and support students who stay over break? Connect with us on Twitter @themoderncampus.

Corinna Kraemer

About the author: Corinna Kraemer (she/her) works in ed tech and loves painting, running, and hanging out with her cat, Mr. K. She hopes her posts will finally help her dad understand what her career in student affairs is all about. Learn how we can help get your students involved.