Advocating for Students

We’ve all had that moment.  We’re working with a student, and they do something that seems so maddeningly stupid.  We want to shake them and be like “Do you realize what you’re doing?!”  Or maybe they say something that you can’t believe anyone would possibly believe, and certainly wouldn’t talk about in polite company.  You need someone to vent to; maybe you relay the story to a co-worker without identifying the student; maybe you submit it to one of those websites like “RA Problems” skewing some of the details or being intentionally vague.  While there are issues of Ethics and Confidentiality here, it seems like a very human thing to do.

What is not acceptable, however, is to provide an entire incident report with names omitted and open it up for public discourse, nor is it okay to publish someone’s entire admissions essay and then spend time dissecting it and humiliating a student (anonymously or not) for the entertainment for yourself and others in your field.  We’ve all seen some extraordinarily poor decision-making.  I have an announcement to make: we’ve also all made some extraordinarily poor decisions.  These are teenagers who are trying to find a community that will support them, trying to learn and excel to their maximum potential.  We are adults, and we do not maliciously exploit someone’s poor grammar, controversial writing topics, or personal beliefs for our own giggles.  We especially don’t do it publicly and anonymously, in order to avoid being held accountable for it.  Students trust us with their lives, their minds, their hopes, and their dreams.  They expect to be respected for their gifts and challenged for their flaws, but not torn down and degraded by some bitter administrator.

All of this stems from a certain brouhaha that erupted over Twitter; those of you who follow me can trace the argument to its source, but I would rather not publish the original essay or blog post because I do not believe it belongs in the public sphere.  If ever we get to a point where we are doing our jobs in spite of our students, it’s time to find a new profession.  Everyone — you, the students, and your colleagues — will be better for that decision.  Working in Higher Education is difficult work, with students and staff who can drive you to your wits’ end.  But there is one thing to remember:

It’s not about us.  There is no ego in this line of work.

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