I worked as an Assessment Coordinator in grad school. Most of that experience was working to figure out how the department could best serve the needs of students as a collective. In doing so, I began to generalize and believe there would be one solution that would work will all students. After all, I didn’t work with students on a day to day basis in assessment, but on paper, I felt like I could develop a plan that would address all students as one. In my mind, what was true for most students became true for all students in a population.
Well, after 3+ months in my current position, I am realizing how absolutely wrong I was. Trying to go into a situation with an assumption of where a student is or what they need has backfired on me several times in these past few months. The most notable example of this has been in working with my hall council executive board.
Being an RHD for an upperclassmen building, I had anticipated my students to be less engaged with community in the building. I figured a lot of these students have already been on campus for a couple of years and have most likely made connections and gotten involved outside the hall. And for a good chunk of the population, that’s arguably true. But I got so wrapped in the idea that those students wouldn’t want to get involved in the building, that I completely neglected the portion of my residents who wanted to get involved in the hall community. When I only had three people at the first interest meeting for our hall council, I chalked it up to lack of interest and more or less accepted a fate of having a struggling council.
Ultimately, I ended up with an executive board of 4 students, but in my mind, they still didn’t want to be that involved. So I tried to do a lot of the work in the beginning. like setting the meeting agenda and running meetings, leading the edits on our constitution, etc. I figured the more work I did for them, the less likely my board members would be to bail on me. And then, during an exec meeting, one of the Co-Chairs looked at me and said “Doug, we really appreciate all your help. But we need to do this on our own.” From there, the board developed a plan to finish constitution edits themselves, outlined a new way to run their meetings, and decided to create a Google Group to share their info and work with one another.
In that moment, I was shocked, and then proud beyond belief. I was so excited that they wanted to have more control and say in what happened. I definitely rode that proud advisor wave for a day or so. And then, I started to reflect on it. Looking back, they had always wanted to run the organization themselves. But because I was so convinced that they weren’t interested, I had been oblivious to the signs.
This realization has made me take a step back and really look at the makeup of the students I serve. Yes, my building is predominantly upperclassmen. But I also have some freshman, not to mention a sizeable number of transfer students, several of whom are in their first residential experience. Each of these students is going to need something different from me. I can’t make assumptions on how involved they want to be, what their interest level is, or anything else really. As easy as it is to try and say “this is what I’m going to do, because these are the students I work with”, I’m finding out it really needs to be more of “These are the students I work with, and this is what they need from me”.
This post is part of the Emerging SA Pro series following 4 awesome people: Alexandria, Doug, Emily, and Alexander, as they blog monthly about 1 year of their journey as either a new SA Pro or SA grad student. We are proud to help them share their stories as they break into our field.