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Environmental Management: Changing Campus Culture to Support Health and Wellness

By: Beth DeRicco, PhD

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years old

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How can student affairs professionals work to shift the campus environment in order to support student health and wellness?

Environmental management is not a new concept.  Beginning in 1998 environmental management became the most prevalent aim of campus best prevention programs, and in 2002 DeJong and Langford [1] thoroughly explored the principles and methods in a well known article, going as far as creating a “typology matrix” for planning methods of effecting a changing in campus alcohol use.  This model is based on the social ecological model of public health, and allow examination of the individual, particular at-risk groups, the community (campus, and the community at large), societal factors such as public policy).

So, how to we go about creating an environment that supports student health and wellness?  If we look at the principles of this common public health approach we will get a sense of direction, hope for the future, and motivation for action.

It is well known that we cannot simply focus on the individual, the issue of concern, and the manifest symptoms (or consequences) if we want to effect a change in the individual, the issue, or the symptoms/consequences.  We are all a product of our gene pool, our family of origin, and the choices we have made over time (and the outcome of those).  Basic public health models tell us that we are all products of the environment in which we make choices, and that we respond to factors in the environment as outlined by the social ecological model.


When aiming to support health and wellness, colleges and universities have long addressed “health” as a holistic property, that is, more than the absence of illness, rather living to one’s full potential emotionally, intellectually, physically, and spiritually.  For many campuses a focus on health has meant a mitigation of risk and consequences to risky behavior; alcohol prevention is a great example of this. [2]  

How can we move to an asset based model, focusing on the positive and engaging students in that way?

One approach would be to focus on the well researched developmental assets that foster health [3], with student assets being identified as early as admission, and supported through campus programs, activities, advising, and academic projects.  This work at the individual student level would be resource heavy in an often resource poor environment.

Another approach would be to use the basic typology of the social ecological model to plan and implement campus and community based events that capture the attention and participation of students while promote the very same assets.  For the purposes of this illustration here is an adaptation of the DeJong/Langford model.