As a Student Affairs professional, we’re trained to develop a rapport with our students, to go beyond student ID numbers, case files, and isolated conversations to engage more meaningfully with the students. We’re encouraged to look at students as individuals, rather than a mere part of the greater student body so that we can best meet their needs. Many of us would likely admit to being innately altruistic individuals who are naturally drawn to a position that enables us to help students reach holistic measurements of development and success in the world of higher education. But with all of the advocacy for developing all these connections with our students, are we opening ourselves up to taking on their hurts?
When you are working closely with students as a Residence Life professional, you’re likely to encounter student accounts of trouble at home, financial struggles, academic pressures, etc. In fact, you hear about some particular issues so often that you run the risk of becoming desensitized and apathetic, which could render you ineffective in appropriately addressing these issues with students. But if you are a naturally sensitive individual or sensitive to particular issues, it’s likely that there are some issues that really tug at your heart strings, which can be equally problematic. Because it could otherwise be an entire article in itself, I will assume that with your training and experiences you’re able to address these difficult issues professionally and effectively in the moment. But once you’ve handled the situation appropriately with the level of concern and engagement demanded of you by the nature of the position, do you then carry those burdens with you?
My heart aches for the students who have to leave the halls and their friends because they can’t afford to pay for their housing anymore. My blood boils for students who are faced with intolerance on the parts of other students, staff, or faculty. And my mind is completely boggled by the issues of violence, hatred, and assault that face our students. While I understand my professional role to intervene where there are violations of policy and to offer a safe place for students to go, I find these challenges to be a bigger issue at the end of the day when it’s time to go home, when I’m no longer bound by the guideline’s of professionalism.
So my question is: After a day, week, month, or semester of actively participating with students and assisting them with their challenges in an engaged way, how do you disengage and leave those burdens, hurts, and headaches behind without becoming callous in your relationships with the students?
Devon Purington is a Residence Life Coordinator at Penn State University-Hazleton.