3 min read

7 Helpful Steps when Navigating a Campus (or Life) Disaster

A friend and colleague sent a meme that read, “I love that choosing where you want to live now is just deciding which natural disasters you could put up with.” The day I received it, I evacuated my home, and it was the last time I would live in it. Disaster is tough. It’s unnerving. It’s uncomfortable. It requires vulnerability. Yet, choosing how we respond to it is the only thing within our control. Compare it to obtaining student and parent buy-in amid an institutional dilemma. How do you still capture the true spirit of a campus? 

As an enrollment leader, if a disaster hasn’t occurred on your watch, consider yourself winning in life. Whether it’s a natural disaster or a campus scandal, unique skills are required to keep efforts moving forward as the smoke is still clearing. From an educational standpoint, students will still apply, parents will still question efforts, and the media will pick up the story and try to sensationalize it to the fullest degree. 

I’ve crafted seven steps to follow during a disruption that can help ease the pain. Correlate this to my own approach, and we may have something here!


It happened. Now what? This is the time to address it full-on. Acknowledge the disruption and show authenticity. Response time is essential. You must inform your audience you’re aware of what’s going on and that it happened. 


You’re not the only one who’s been through it. During a crisis, reach out to others who have endured or are enduring the tragedy as well. For example, showing current student engagement via a discussion-based panel, social media interaction, and/or phone calls demonstrates how students can still see themselves there. 


Breakdowns will happen. Additional questions and concerns should be addressed. Monitor this outreach for additional information and/or people being upset. Create options where they can calm down and retrieve updated information on a regular basis.  


Now is not the time to operate in a silo. Address the entire team. Listen to all levels of staff for input. Get your Sheryl Sandberg on and Lean In to the issue with intention. The mess isn’t yours alone. I promise, whoever thinks otherwise is still dealing with their mess because they chose to clean it up solo.


Celebrate every chance you get! Every win counts. Nothing is too big or too small during a disaster. Let me tell ya—absolutely nothing is too big or too small in this regard! 

6.   MONITOR THE DATA: Quantitatively and Qualitatively 

Track the ebb and flow of your funnel but remember that the anecdotal accounts will be meaningful next year to explain what the changes could have meant. This is certainly a time to tie the two together. 


I grew up hearing the adage there’s no “I” in the word team. That’s true, but “me” is sprinkled in there somewhere. You’ve done the work. You’ve shown up for others. You’ve led in chaos. Take a minute and make sure your cup is still full. 

So, what happened with the natural disaster? It was exactly that. A disaster! However, I chose to approach it with a winning spirit—with a few breakdowns in between. I opted to be transparent with my colleagues and gained perspective by connecting with others who experienced the same. My safe space was family and close friends. It was difficult, but welcoming people from all stages of life allowed me to establish a team. Every day was a win to celebrate. I had to monitor my temperament, the data of my well-being, to maintain sanity. Lastly, each day a decision was made to choose a better me


Be COOL about life. 

Be CANDID about yours. 

Be CONNECTED to others and know they have “stuff” too. 


You’ve got this! It’s still a safe space. Make sure they know it too.