About three years ago on a now-defunct personal blog, I wrote a post about people in several separate incidents who were taking legal action — lawsuits, naturally — against schools and other various organizations. These lawsuits were based on the fact that a person felt that some sort of action (or inaction) was wholly unfair to them or infringed on their rights in some way. I thought about posting excerpts from my original post, but since this blog is specific to Higher Education, I would rather this post’s tone be proactive instead of reactive. In sum, I described the situations in detail and concluded — among other things — that society is setting up its young people for a hard, cruel dose of reality that they are ill equipped to handle whenever it might appear.
I must admit that when I wrote that initial post, I had just graduated with my Master’s degree and had worked full-time in Higher Education for all of two months, so my actual experiences with this sort of behavior were limited to what I read in articles and the occasional story I gleaned through word-of-mouth. Now, having completed three years of what I hope to be a lengthy career, I find that I am not only wiser and more experienced, but less idealistic and impetuous, which lends itself well to seeing “the big picture.”
With that being said, when we have students come through our offices who display their entitlements like badges of honor, what can we as college student administrators do to communicate understanding as well as provide teachable moments for them? I would be lying to you if I said it is easy to have a young person sitting in front of us waxing poetic about the injustices that have been inflicted on them because their room is too hot (or cold) or they received a failing grade in a course, among many other things. However, it is our responsibility to assist all students — including these — with a welcome ear and, when necessary, a civic-minded educational approach to their issues. Therefore, in order to take on this responsibility, we educators need to first understand the larger picture before we start dissecting individual concerns.
With that in mind, where do we look for reasons as to what is causing/has caused this behavior? I commonly hear the term “society” being tossed around as the evil-doer for all things big and small, but I believe that is slightly disingenuous to the problem at hand. Simply saying society is the root cause for a student’s behavior is akin to a criminal saying ‘the devil made them do it.’ It passes the buck without taking any time to evaluate the situation or its causality. What we need to begin to understand is that there can be just as many reasons for why a student feels entitled as there are students at our higher ed institutions. What is really important is taking the time to learn about our students and discovering where they’ve come from and the experiences they’ve had before we begin to dole out the how’s, what’s, and why’s.
I understand this is not an easy proclamation to make, especially since our time is already stretched across numerous roles and responsibilities. Yet we are called to be student-focused in our work, which means we need to holistically focus on the student if we are to have an impact and educate our young people. As Napoleon Hill, one of the original self-help/personal success authors once wrote, “You must get involved to have an impact. No one is impressed with the won-lost record of the referee.” Let’s take this advice and put it forward in our work with students. The more we get involved with our students and more we get involved in who they are, the better equipped we are to give them the tools they require to be ready for and succeed in the world outside of the university.
Do you have any stories or experiences where you took the time to learn about a student in order to better assist them? What was that experience like? How did the student respond? Please share your insight below!