The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Pioneering education: investigating the great divide between students and academic affairs

At Grinnell, we rarely try to assess how different offices work with each other, and what sort of impact their collaboration can have on the student body. It may come as no surprise, but the relationship between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs, being the most influential to students on a daily basis, is also the most strenuous. Student Affairs and Academic Affairs both play a critical role in student life, and when their relationship is strained, students are negatively affected. This tension is distinguished by a propensity for faculty members to deflect certain responsibilities to student affairs.

A snippet of the mission statement of student affairs reads: “[The department] advances the College mission and strategic plan by intentionally fostering and proactively promoting student learning and development…” Similarly, the academic catalog describes a Grinnell education in the following way: “Intensive teaching, active learning, residence in a community of cultural and global diversity, and self-governance in both social and academic life.” More pertinent to this discussion is the established role of the faculty adviser, which is described in the following manner: “[The responsibilities are to] help the student plan his or her program of study; provide a sympathetic hearing and, as needed, advice or referral on academic and career concerns; be readily available to the student, giving each an opportunity to know a faculty member well and a sense that someone is personally interested in his or her welfare; and encourage each student to develop the ability to make responsible decisions.” It is clear that both academic affairs and student affairs advocate similar aspirations with student development, accountability, and well being located at the core of their missions.

Upon reflecting on my personal experiences with my advisers, student affairs staff, and professors, as well as informal conversations that I’ve had with many students, it seems as though the schism is powered by the attitudes held by professors. For instance, Student Affairs is often the ‘dumping ground’ that faculty resorts to when there is an issue that is alarming or non-academically related (I am of course omitting outlier examples, such as indications that a student may be self-harming or not sleeping or eating—these should obviously be attended to by health professionals). I am lucky in that I have never felt as though my professors have ‘dumped’ me onto Student Affairs, but I can’t count how many friends and classmates have described the times when they were extremely stressed out, anxious, or depressed and the initial reply was, “Well…you could go talk to someone in Student Affairs.” Is this a valid response?

Of course, if I were to talk to my RLC about problems I was having in understanding phage morphology, she would encourage me to talk to my professor. The follow-up would be minimal unless I was close to failing my biology class, but at that point my advisers and academic advising would be involved. Therefore, is it fair to expect a more involved reaction from professors when we share personal struggles with them that could be affecting our classroom performance? If we define student affairs strictly as the body that deals with student issues and academic affairs as the body that deals solely with curricular and academic issues, then, no, this is an unfair expectation. But, nothing is ever so neatly divided—our interactions with our classmates and professors are relevant to our personal lives, and our interactions with student affairs staff teach us important social and emotional skills. Yet, this division is upheld by many—some students point out that they would never speak to their professors about personal problems, citing that those professors “really wouldn’t care” or that “it’s not their problem’s not related to class material.” In response to this claim of neglect, one professor I spoke to said that she would be fearful of saying the wrong thing and exacerbating a problem and for that reason would rather refer a student to an RLC.

Of course, it is unfair to expect professors to become intimately involved with their students’ lives, by virtue that relationships are unique and demand different forms of guidance. We should be sensitive to the fact that professors have personal lives and other things going on, so it is selfish and unrealistic for us to expect them to attend to us exclusively. While this problem affects a significant portion of the student body, we should also celebrate and recognize those professors who embody both intellectual and humanistic ideals—the perfect Grinnell professor.

Grinnell is an educational institution, and a Grinnell education is never restricted to the type of ‘academic’ learning that takes place in the classroom. A Grinnell professor once encouraged me to “demand more from myself, my education, and my professors” and I think that this advice resonates well with all those involved in this issue. Establishing more open lines of communication between faculty and student affairs is promising initial step, but not sufficient. I am not asking anyone to step out of the natural and healthy boundaries that must exist in every relationship, nor am I asking anyone to do more than their background, training, or emotional faculties permit. I am asking faculty members and student affairs staff to reflect on the relationship that they have with each other, to respect and value each other’s work, and to work with each other to provide students with a more holistic educational experience.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *