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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Professors and Privacy


Dear EM,

I’ve had a lot of medical issues this semester and my professors keep asking me why. How can I ask them to stop invading my privacy?

                    -Professor Problem

Hey Professor Problem,

    We are very sorry that there is pressure on you to disclose things that you do not want to disclose. You should never be put in a position where you are obligated to share a diagnosis with a professor. It sounds like this might be a situation where it would be valuable to loop in Autumn Wilke (the Coordinator of Disability Resources) and have her help explain to professors what’s going on in a way that conveys the necessary information but respects your privacy. Autumn could help you brainstorm ways to approach your professors and help them understand your situation. She could help you with getting accommodations if you don’t already have them, and if you do, she could help you to use the framework of your accommodations to resolve the situation.

Given the way accommodations work, the only thing that should be shared with professors regarding your health is functional impacts (i.e., a need for time and a half on exams because you have trouble concentrating, etc.), but never a specific diagnosis. Part of the reason we focus on functional impact as opposed to a diagnosis is that many people have different (and sometimes flat out wrong) ideas about what a specific diagnosis actually means. Additionally, the same diagnosis can manifest in two people through very different symptoms.

Once again, we’re sorry that you were put in this position and hope that you can get connected with Autumn for help resolving the situation in a way that gives professors what they need while also protecting your privacy. 


    Dear EM,

I’m a first year and the transition to college has been particularly rough for me. I haven’t really found my “group” of people yet, and found it to be particularly devastating to be rejected by all of the groups on campus that I auditioned for. I’ve since joined a few clubs, but it feels like everyone already has their groups of friends that aren’t really open to new people — what should I do?

-Feeling Alone

Hey Feeling Alone!

I hear you. The first year transition is hard, and while your peers may not be showing it, the transition is hard for many of them too (it certainly was for us).  To paraphrase Rabbi Rob, who we consulted with about this question, at this stage everything is a lot more plastic than it appears. Because the college transition is hard, people constantly try to attach themselves to others, making groups that look a lot more solid than they are. To quote Rob directly, “It’s all just an illusion.”  And in terms of college development, there’s a big shift in friend groups and extracurricular activities that happens between this upcoming spring semester and your second year, as you and your peers discover new passions and interests. Rob suggested that to spark this transformation, you should think really hard about what you want to be doing, what feeds you and let it radiate out of you. The people who have similar interests will find and support you, and if you start really thinking about what it is that makes you glow now, you’re ahead of the game.

Okay, that’s an intimidating task, but there are lots of people on this campus who want to help you make it happen. You have us, but also Rabbi Rob, Deanna Shorb, the many student leaders on campus and even some of your professors! And all of us are great resources for talking about what you want to get out of Grinnell, both socially and extra-curricularly. There are also great resources like Peer Support [PSupp], an organization that meets in the CRSSJ on Saturdays at 5 p.m. that can provide a space for you to talk about things that are going on and meet people in a low-key setting. This campus is overflowing with people who want to help — to support you in all that you’re doing, they just might not be the people you’ve met so far.

Your time at Grinnell will change you — your interests, passions and goals — and with these changes come new opportunities to find a sense of community and belonging with people who share those interests and goals. We’d love to chat about this more during our office hours or over a cup of tea in Bob’s.


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