Environmental management is grounded in the social ecological model of public health, which recognizes the link between a student’s perception of the surroundings (both physical and symbolic) and the behaviors and social practices that he or she believes to be normal or expected.
Strategic planning for environmental management requires an understanding of the environmental factors that influence or enable undesired student behavior. That understanding informs the plan of evidence-based strategies that address and change these factors. Evidence-based strategies include policies, enforcement and adjudication, changes to physical settings, and revisions of practices. Changing a college environment is a slow and steady process that needs a good long-term strategic plan and the involvement both of stakeholders who contribute to or maintain the current environment and of those who are affected by it.
Assessment of the current environment is the first step. Understanding where high-risk behaviors, poor student engagement, or intolerance to diversity is occurring on the campus is critical. Planners should look for spaces, places, practices, procedures, and policies that may be enabling unwanted behaviors or stifling efforts to provide a safe and supportive learning environment. The creation of learning communities, for example, demonstrates how a change in the physical setup of living and learning spaces can yield tremendous changes in student engagement. Changes in the way in which students host a party can mean the difference between a good social event and a tragedy.
Planners should review current policies, examining how well they are communicated, enforced, and adjudicated. Having policies on paper may mean little if students, faculty, and staff are unaware and if there are no negative consequences for aligning behavior with the standards. Planners should look at the current mechanisms that discourage unwanted behaviors on campus, encourage student engagement and well-being, and foster ethical and social responsibility.
Research for the past 25 years has established a foundation of evidence for strategies that have proven effective in changing environments and cultures. These strategies, and the case studies of the many institutions that have implemented them, are all available on this website. Planners working to change the campus environment should adapt evidence-based strategies to fit their own unique system and setting while maintaining the fidelity of the strategy. Evaluation also should be included in the plan, so that changes can be documented and measured or adjustments to strategy can be made.