It’s the most wonderful time of year. The school supply displays are up in major retailers. Commercials are touting the must have shoes for back to school. Every week a Bed, Bath and Beyond catalog appears in my mailbox to highlight some new thing that college students need for their dorm rooms. Beneath all of the commercialization, the anticipation for the upcoming school year is palpable. It’s a time of new beginnings and opportunity on the horizon.
I took a much needed break on a Saturday afternoon in early July to see Toy Story 3. Armed with a wad of tissues and the warnings of those who had gone before me, I thought I was prepared to say goodbye to Woody, Buzz, Andy, and the rest of the gang. As I watched Andy go through the process of preparing to leave for college and make decisions about what he would take with him and what he would leave behind, I realized how wrongly many of us are doing our jobs this time of year.
What’s on your desk right now? Look around. Is it the welcome week schedule? The latest round of room assignments? Updates to degree requirements for advisees? A revised syllabus for the first year experience course you teach?
We are enthused about the opportunities that we provide to incoming students, and rightfully so. As a collective field, we have a lot to offer our students. We have classes, programs, events, activities, organizations — all of them our toys. New ones! Shiny ones! Ones that our new friends have never seen before!
But in our excitement, we sometimes forget about the toys that our students have relegated to bags in their attics and basements, the things they leave behind and give up to be with us on our campuses. We lose sight of the people they are because we’re so focused on the people they can become. They are away from family and friends; they made choices about schools and may have cold feet. Over the next weeks as students begin to arrive on our campuses, remember for a minute what you felt stepping onto campus for the first time. Remember your friends who weren’t with you and the newness of everything around you. Think about what you left behind and the trepidation you felt about replacing those things too quickly.
Meet yourself where you were at to better equip yourself to meet new students where they are.