Canes Care for Canes fosters positive campus community

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Canes Care for Canes, a campus-wide, action-oriented initiative sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs, aims to promote a more caring campus community where students can respect, support and watch out for one another.

The initiative works to help students that may be encountering difficulties or challenges, and are currently in need of assistance.

Though not meant to substitute 911 or other immediate auxiliary services, like Resident Assistants, this initiative aims to fulfill four main goals. According to its website, the initiative includes keeping an updated list of campus-based and community resources, and providing referrals and resources to address concerns.

“The focus is to provide a listing of resources, programs and resource activities that students can access whenever they feel they need help or if they have friends who need help,” said Dr. Gail Cole-Avent, university ombudsperson and assistant to the vice president for student affairs.

Students can report concerns on the website, which is closely monitored by specific members of the Division of Student Affairs.

In the spring of 2011, the initiative launched a student organization that aims to provide a more direct form of help for struggling students on campus. The organization also aims to educate the student body, through student ambassadors, about the many resources provided by the university to help students cope.

“We seem like a carefree college, but there are people who care,” said Kristen Spillane, a student ambassador in the program, in an interview conducted for Miami Magazine.

Student ambassadors for the program are known as Canes Care ambassadors.

“Students help pass on the message,” Dr. Cole-Avent said. “Canes Care ambassadors approach students to say ‘we’re interested, we believe in this message.’”

According to Dr. Cole-Avent, there are currently 15 students in the Canes Care for Canes ambassador program.

“These ambassadors are students who are interested in making sure that this campus is one where people feel comfortable and they feel comfortable to reach out to one another,” she said. “It’s a very energetic group and they make sure that there’s always that one-on-one, personal touch with other students.”

According to Spillane, before the organization was formally set up, it was simply a list on-campus resources available for students in need of help.

“It really wasn’t an action-orientated group,” she said. “This is our first step toward students. We want to be a positive source on campus.”

Samantha Flanagan, a former student ambassador, was attracted by the organization’s emphasis on building close relationships.

“I came from a small high school where everyone was really close and connected, and it reminded me of that,” Flanagan said in an interview with Miami Magazine. “I never really felt that at UM.”

During her time at UM, she served as a prominent member of the organization, and worked to increase its profile on campus.

“We wanted to build a community within the ambassadors and then have them go to their organizations and spread the word,” Flanagan said. “We wanted to get a lot more people involved.”

The group plans to aggressively recruit during Freshman Orientation and CanesFest. According to Dr. Cole-Avent, students who benefited from the program felt thankful that others cared for them enough to seek outside help.

“In most cases students were very appreciative that someone from campus reached out to them and felt strongly enough to report this information,” she said. “This was the program’s first year, and it seems as though it adapted well to campus and people used it for different purposes in ways that we could outreach the students.”

According to Dr. Cole-Avent, the organization received several anonymous reports this year through its website requesting help for students going through several problems, including over-exercising, eating disorders and relationship issues. The students in need of help are directed to the health center, wellness center or counseling center – and receive the professional help their independent situations may require.

“It’s important to show the freshmen and parents that they are not going to college alone,” Spillane said.

For more information or to submit a report, visit miami.edu/sa/index.php/canes_care_for_canes.

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