Last week, I had the opportunity to be with a small group of our new Changemaker Fellows and some FAST Fund leaders at a convening of the University Professionals of Illinois, the union representing faculty and other academic support professionals on seven of the state’s public universities. We were there to discuss the work we are beginning in the Great Lakes region to train and support students to identify ways their campuses can improve basic needs supports, and then work with faculty and other professionals to address those needs.

In that room, students shared stories of disconnects that could so easily be bridged. One said that she spoke with a campus food pantry worker who was sure their limited weekday hours were adequate to meet the need on the campus; meanwhile, her survey of students revealed that weekend availability would fill a critical need. Another described a student health services department with terrific supports available, but few clients, because it was hidden away in a corner of campus with little prominent signage.

And the campus professionals attending the conference were rapt listeners and – despite the negative image people sometimes have of unions – desperate to help. When our Fellow expressed a feeling that moving health services was probably impossible, the professionals in the room clarified that in fact, people move offices regularly and such a request wasn’t as difficult as it seemed. One attendee asked students to share how professors could provide more support in their classrooms. (Trust me, the Fellows had thoughts.) A couple of retirees approached us afterwards about getting the retiree chapter more involved.

 Believe in Students is leaning into the concept of pairing faculty and students together – not only providing emergency aid supports to students, but working together to identify and pursue changes to better equip their campuses to support today’s #RealCollege students. (Stay tuned for our new report on the topic coming in April.) Last week’s convening showed the power of this idea, and the hunger on campuses for a way to work together to bring such changes about. I’m excited for this next stage of our work together, and hope you’ll follow along as we build a more responsive higher education system, together.