FT: If we aren’t having the tough conversations, how will our students ever be comfortable doing so?
Whether it is a crisis situation, social justice education, the death of a loved one, or academic dishonesty, we as Student Affairs professionals are faced with the difficult task of engaging our students (and their families) in incredibly tough conversations. We acknowledge that these conversations are equally difficult for all parties involved. These conversations may lead to anger, fear, tears, and most likely, additional questions – many we may not have the answer to at the time. So, why do we do it? Why is it so important that we as SAPros put ourselves-and more importantly, our students-through these emotionally trying conversations?
These conversations are often taking place after it’s too late.
Let’s be honest: no one likes to talk about cheating, sexual assault on campus or active shooters, but unfortunately we live in a world where such things are our reality and as SAPros we must be prepared for these situations if they arise. We must also prepare our students. Ultimately, isn’t our job as SAPros to prepare our students for the future? This future involves both good and bad. While we all love preparing our students for their next big assignment, graduation and jobs, it is equally important for us to prepare them for the more frightful world ahead of them. We need to be having these conversations, educating our students, and raising awareness of issues on our campus and around the world, before issues arise rather than after.
If we don’t, no one else will.
College students are still growing, learning, maturing. Their minds are moldable. They are vulnerable and susceptible to changes and transitions – even our non-traditional students who have been in the work force for 20 years have something to learn from us, just as we can learn from them. If we as professionals – who work closest to them – aren’t willing and able to have these conversations with them, we can be certain that other professional in their life are also steering clear. Our students trust us, for the most part, so we need to use our relationship with them to reach them with all messages – especially the hard ones.
There is a need for a future of activists.
If we are not creating dialogue and allowing safe spaces on campus for our students to engage in conversation about controversial topics, and we are not advocating for ourselves and our students, how are we supposed to instill in our students a voice for them to do so? How are our future leaders going to be able to thrive if we aren’t leading them in conversation? We want them to grow to be advocates for themselves. We want them to be activists and to fight for what is important to them. We want them to gain an understanding of others around them as well as their global community. We must bring up the topics of sexual assault, drug and alcohol use, mental health, active shooters, violence, discrimination and prejudice, race and culture, and so much more. These are the tough conversations that will reap the most reward. Our students will not necessarily enjoy these conversations – nor will we – but we will all get the most out of them. Someday, we will look back on these conversations and realize what we gained from them, and how important they were to our students.