My first encounter with Recreation and Wellness at St. Edward's University was when I was a freshman competing in an intramural basketball league. Initially, I did not realize that this department was run by and for students, so upon arrival I met with two student workers. I was surprised that they were able to run a program, and I immediately wanted to offer my abilities to provide these types of services to my university.
I had a difficult time transitioning to college. There was not a consistency of people within classes, and I didn't have the sport that I had played all my life. Originally, signing up for intramurals was just a way to cope with college stress, but it was also a way to experience my previous passion once more. I did not know that joining Recreation and Wellness would allow me an opportunity to insert myself into an accepting community and provide me both with comfort and a way to assist my school.
Prior to working for Recreation and Wellness, I felt that I was not fulfilling my purpose. I was constantly going through the motions with daily tasks and classes. I felt lost and unable to create meaningful relationships with classmates due to only meeting a couple times a week and for only a semester's worth of time. Furthermore, I was a commuter student — which meant that I did not get to experience dorm life and engage with other freshmen who took part in activities in their living communities. It was impossible for me to connect with my peers with such limited time spent on campus. There was not a reason for me to be on campus except for school.
After acquiring a job at Recreation and Wellness, I began to see the importance of life outside the classroom. I realized there was more to college than just academics. I was now able to work alongside people toward a common goal of providing recreational amenities to our student population. The job also allowed me to create bonds with many past and current student employees and participants that will possibly last a lifetime. I felt like I not only found where I belonged within the campus community, but also within an industry.
The main lessons that I have learned as a student staff member at Recreation and Wellness are compassion and empathy. The younger version of me did not know what it meant to show grace toward others, or how important that is. My prior work experience was more of a solo job, so interacting with people was challenging. Once I'd established a family at Recreation and Wellness, I started to care more about the wellbeing of others. The job I had was not just a job anymore — we crafted a culture in which each of us genuinely admired the work that each student worker was producing, but also made certain that they enjoyed what they were doing.
Mental health is of the utmost priority at Recreation and Wellness, and by prioritizing that as a department on campus we have been able to set a standard of acceptance of all people regardless of race, class, gender and religion. We show kindness to all who take part in our programs. After helping people run events, schedule games, organize fundraisers and recruit new members for club sports, I realized that I have no way of knowing what people are going through in their personal lives. I am only able to see that small snippet when they interact with Recreation and Wellness. But the beauty of working on a smaller campus is that it has enabled me to become more intimate with others individually.
Although what I do is a job, I also feel like I am offering myself as a friend to peers who are willing to share the more private situations going on in their lives. By being trusted in some of the most vulnerable circumstances with students struggling through adversity, my position allows me to accept them as they are, understand where each individual is coming from and help them as a fellow student to work toward providing them an experience that uplifts them through difficult times.
This leads me into what I would like to see from my university in the future: a program that listens to the student body and connects them with all available resources. I am certain there are a number of students who are unaware of all the opportunities that Recreation and Wellness offers, and it is a primary goal to collaborate with all the other departments on campus to appeal to the needs of the St. Edward's community. To do this, everyone must prompt each other in embracing differences and similarities. Being open to the possibilities that a recreation program can create will help to attain these goals. My ideal campus recreation environment is one that shows compassion to all students and is willing to exceed limitations to provide support to all students.
This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Empathy emerges during campus rec employment." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.