I’ve been thinking a lot about first-generation students, trying to imagine what college is like for them and to determine ways we can serve them better. I remember a conversation I had with a first-year, first-gen student last fall who told me that he declined his work-study allocation because he didn’t know what work-study was. He had since become a finalist for a great on-campus position—a job he sorely needed and could benefit from in many ways—but the employer wanted to hire someone with work-study. By the time the student got to this part of the story, he was nearly in tears.
We can certainly wonder why he didn’t just ask someone about work-study. The answer: He didn’t want to look stupid or stand out.
What other terms do we use in higher education that are uncommon outside our culture and that create barriers to those who want to experience our world?
Student Affairs/Academic Affairs: Affairs? Really?
Engagement: Our marketing department created a huge banner that simply says, “Engage.” A faculty member quipped: “When did we start promoting marriage?”
Bursar: Financial services?
Chancellor/Provost: Few students understand what they do. These titles don’t help.
Union: This word makes me think “labor union” or “credit union,” not a place where college students hang out. Many schools have already changed this to “center.”
Discipline: Student conduct? A field of study? Both?
What words can you add to this list? Perhaps your institution has already changed some of its language. If so, what words do you use? How many of us distribute a list of campus terms and their meanings during Orientation? What can we do to lessen or eliminate the need for these translations?
I’m told that changing the names of things is costly (signs, brochures, and all). Not changing them may cost even more. The student I spoke about at the beginning of this post got the job after all. Imagine if he also could have been spared those moments of frustration and humiliation. Words matter.