Building an Inclusive Family Weekend

For many parents and families, especially for those with first-year students or those who are first-time college parents, Family Weekend is an eagerly anticipated opportunity to reconnect and enjoy time together while exploring their student’s “home away from home.” For some students, however, Family Weekend can be an uncomfortable or even painful reminder of family who will not be visiting, whatever the reason. Especially on a small campus of about 2,000 students, it is quite obvious who has visitors and who does not.

As part of Colorado College’s institutional commitment to inclusion, the Office of Parent and Family Programs works to find ways to make Family Weekend an event that both celebrates all members of our campus community and welcomes parent and family visitors.

  • Words matter. A few years ago, we changed the name of our event from Family Weekend to Family and Friends Weekend to embrace all of the ways in which students define and experience family. One CC student said it well, “Family are the people who move and shape and build you but also that ground you. I definitely consider the people who I’ve become really close to in the last four years as members of my family.”
  • Invite student government or other student groups to plan and sponsor an event. Students know what draws other students’ interest. A carnival and fun fair planned by the first-year class committee, a performance by a student band, or a t-shirt tie-dying event put on by the outdoor education student interns draws a higher turnout of students without visitors than an academic lecture coordinated by an administrative office. Parents and families will appreciate these events, too, because they get a glimpse into what students like to do for fun.
  • Work with campus partners to subsidize costs. For example, the Fine Arts Center at Colorado College waives their admission fee for all visitors during the weekend. Likewise, the art school associated with the Fine Arts Center offers free drop-in, hands-on art activities. Because it was underwritten by a number of academic departments, the major jazz concert event we staged this year was also free of charge for the first hundred students who wanted to attend.
  • Make sure the message that “all are welcome” gets out in multiple ways. Make a list of events that do not require registration or payment. Work in tandem with campus communications colleagues and student leaders to circulate it widely to students via email, social media networks, video monitors, posters, table tents, and even text-messaging platforms.
  • Involve attendees. Families who are able to attend Family and Friends Weekend are usually more than willing to “adopt” a student who does not have any visitors. While this often happens organically, consider making an explicit invitation to adopt a student for one or more events during the weekend part of your pre-event communication.
  • Create special opportunities. To encourage strong student-faculty relationships both in and out of the classroom, the Colorado College Office of Student Life implemented a Breaking Bread initiative over 15 years ago. Each year, this program provides financial support for nearly 200 meals that are hosted by faculty and staff in their homes. This year, we partnered with Student Life to make Saturday evening Breaking Bread dinners part of Family and Friends Weekend. For over 100 students without weekend visitors, five members of our administration team welcomed them to their homes for a special meal. In addition, the Student Alumni Association sponsored a special dinner hosted by local alumni, giving students and alumni a chance to meet each other and strengthen their “Colorado College family” connections.

What does your institution do to make Family Weekend an inclusive and engaging event for both students with visitors and those without? I invite you to share your ideas in the comments section or in the AHEPPP Facebook group!

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