Emotional intelligence (EI) in higher ed is more important than ever. It is a critical factor in overall personal development, and it can impact personal relationships as well as professional success. Many employers have begun to seriously evaluate prospective employees’ EI, especially as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives rise to the forefront.
In higher education, schools are increasingly weaving the skills and tools needed to improve emotional intelligence into the curriculum. But emotional intelligence goes beyond what is taught in the classroom. Schools must start by looking at the culture of the institution and how that impacts students both inside and outside of the classroom.
Culture: How to Foster Emotional Intelligence in Higher Ed
The culture of a college or university includes a number of factors, including social norms, traditions, and values. Understanding how emotions factor into these elements is key. Emotions impact not only the environment of the institutions but how students, staff, and faculty navigate relationships, social situations, and interpersonal and professional communications.
Fostering emotional intelligence in higher ed can take many forms. Institutions should consider how EI can be threaded into the curriculum as well as institutional policies. In the classroom, this might include a focus on tools for emotional management, which can be included in communication, psychology, and leadership courses.
Outside of the classroom, a focus on volunteering, community service, and cultural events offers students opportunities to hone important emotional intelligence skills. Exposure to relationship-building activities with diverse populations helps students hone interpersonal skills and effectively navigate their emotions across a range of scenarios.
Looking at institutional policies is also important. DEI initiatives are critical in supporting diverse and welcoming campus communities for all students. A focus on attracting and retaining students with diverse experiences and backgrounds should be paramount for schools. Retention is especially critical as they underpin an environment where all students feel valued and respected, which in turn fosters positive emotional experiences.
An emphasis on promoting mental health is also important. Policies that support mental health and well-being give students resources and tools to manage their emotions in a healthy way. They may also broaden access to help when struggling with emotional issues.
A Culture of Emotional Intelligence Extends Beyond Campus
Traditions, values, policies, and a focus on preparing students with important emotional intelligence skill sets are foundational. But creating a culture around EI extends beyond campus. By providing training and resources for staff and families to develop and improve EI skills, schools can contribute to a broader environment of inclusivity and emotional well-being.
Students are not the only ones who may find the transition into a higher education learning environment difficult. Providing resources and support for families who are also adapting to the emotional challenges of higher education (dealing with “empty nest” syndrome, managing finances, etc.) can also enhance a university’s culture.
Ultimately, the culture of a higher education institution plays a critical role in shaping the emotional experiences of students, staff, faculty, and families. By fostering emotional intelligence across the board, institutions can create an environment that supports positive emotional experiences, builds relationships, and promotes personal and professional success.