In retrospect, our first year at the university and often the years to follow while being a great experience were also a period of challenges, change, stress-filled moment and indecision. The difference between who thrived, survived or failed had much to do with the world of parents, faculty, friends and mentors who provided support and guidance.
Today, it has become quite common to joke about the new generation of college students and view them solely from a standpoint of how they fall short in comparison to generations gone by. We often forget that current college students and recent graduates are now functioning in a world unlike what their parents knew. Their parent’s world was not formed around online media, did not deal with a daily onslaught of shootings, overly competitive job market, global acts of terrorism, war in numerous regions of the world, an unpredictable economy, the increasing price of higher education, etc.
While campus life may be idyllic and provide a level of comfort and security, faculty and administrators may witness students suffering with issues of anxiety, depression or a sense of being totally overwhelmed. Faculty are not expected to function as counselors, but if possible, it may be good for them to be able to recognize some of the signs of anxiety or depression to refer students on to the counseling center. Most important, just because we do not feel the student’s pain does not mean it isn’t real!
Given a role of power and authority it becomes imperative to support student learners and refrain from trivializing what they may be going through, indiscriminately sharing private information that students shared with us, or utilizing their pain or frustration to mount our own personal campaign against unrelated issues. With the growing number of campuses worldwide embracing globalization and diversity, intercultural communication competency may need to be required in classrooms today. What happens when the flippant comment that Western students can assumedly embrace becomes a point of hurt or shame for an international student. As once offensive terms become integrated into daily life, it is still important to note that such terms may not be considered the norm or socially acceptable worldwide. As far as racial slurs and profiling, we want to believe that “educated” individuals or someone who has earned their doctorate would be removed from such behavior in the classroom. Life, however, has taught me differently.
As educators, we consciously and unconsciously serve as role models and mentors to our students. In this instance, the campus becomes a place where education in and out of the classroom supports students through their process of self-development and empowers them to be a support to other students. If we should doubt the meaningful role we play, I am reminded of the conclusion of Maya Angelou’s poem I’VE LEARNED when she says, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
College years may not be a ball for everyone. When we support students to understand that this moment, circumstance, problem or incident can be addressed with honesty, self-awareness and integrity, they will forever be reminded of how we made them feel. This can then become a self-fulfilling legacy as they learn to play it forward when they see another student who is hurting.