Friday, 28 August 2020 – 3:03pm
In our line of work, the days are long and the work can be grueling. It can sometimes feel payoff never seems to come and many times we end our days with some really difficult conversations that were had or put on hold for the next day. How do we keep ourselves ahead of the struggle and be motivated daily? What is the point of our job if we continue to get berated by angry students and even angrier parents? Is upholding the integrity of the institution really what our offices are about? If so, why do so many individuals expect us to do the work silently with little to no recognition? If it’s not about upholding the integrity, what exactly keeps us motivated to do the work?
Now, I’m no Wizard of Oz who will tell you the “right” answers to the questions I posed but rather to provide some insight on how I tackle these very questions; whether right or wrong.
Let me provide you, the reader, with a frame of reference on who is writing this blog. I am a 20 something-year-old, fairly new professional in the field. I completed my graduate work in 2017 and had a graduate assistantship in student conduct for the last year of my two-year program. I’ve been in my professional role for almost two years. For those of you well-seasoned professionals, I’m sure to get immediate eye rolls and a “buck up kid, you’re too young to be burnt out.” And, I’m not burnt out, for the record; I just have a million questions running through my mind and I need a way to compile the answers.
I love my job, I remember the day I found the posting – on Facebook in fact; how millennial, right? I saw the posting and immediately thought, this is perfect! This is EVERYTHING I want to be doing in life. Perhaps it was because I had been jobless and, for all intents and purposes, homeless for six months following graduation that I was just excited to find a job that I mostly wanted to do, in the field that I had spent two years getting a degree in.
The questions raised in the opening paragraph are ones surfaced after being in my role for just over a year. When I think back to the event that sparked these questions I am reminded of a time when our office was shut down. The topic of cause was related to whether or not student honor council members would be allowed to receive a medal at graduation, which acknowledged their role. The people in our office were totally on board. Ultimately Stakeholders saw it differently and gave us a hard-pass which inevitably meant it was never going to happen. This had me wondering why do our work silently when offices, like ours, are the backbone to the institution. If there is no integrity in the institution, how can one feel confident in getting a degree that is going to mean something? Where is the harm in showcasing the actual hard work some of our students are doing to justify the weight of each degree conferred to EVERY student who ever attended the institution? Rarely do people see it this way. Instead our offices are cast in such a light that demonizes our work.
Of course being reported to any student conduct office isn’t a warm and fuzzy feeling and every student has a reason as to why they shouldn’t have been reported; “what I did wasn’t that bad” or, “everyone does it, why does it matter?” “I know a person who got away with this, why am I getting in trouble?” On and on, reasons on reasons. I can understand why our offices are seen as the fun-killer or the bully. It’s really a matter of growth for the student to see us as individuals who are more than just rules. We are offices that care about the students who have committed an infraction because we want to help them learn from their behavior in a much safer environment than out there…IRL. Where, if you mess up you could be facing actual time in the slammer. A quick jump in conclusions, I know, but honestly not far-fetched. Look at the Harvey Winstein’s, the Alexander Kemo’s or even the Lori Loughlin’s of the world. If someone had helped them when they were younger, would their behavior have escalated? If someone had challenged their morals, would they be strewn across the headlines and in jail?
To me, our work helps in the grander picture. Life after college. I know we cannot save every student from making decisions that are not in alignment with their values because many times the cases that stream through were made in a split decision of blurred judgement; but we can do our best to help those students who have been reported. The best thing about our offices is that we do not sanction students just because they committed an infraction but we take into account the whole student. Yes there are some sanctions that are trivial because of certain guidelines but many times we can find additional ways to help the students grow from the experience. They may never see us as an integral part of their college career but maybe they just might.
I can understand it taking time for the student to let our offices sink in as an aid in their growth. But their parents, faculty, our higher administrators in the institution? Why the pushback? If they don’t see our office as important, then why should we? Why have an office that does something about upholding the integrity of the institution if the higher administrators don’t believe in our work? I cannot believe that a little recognition of our offices is a negative thing. Not to say that we need a seat next to the president of the institution or even an office right next to theirs to feel valued but, it would be really nice if they at least backed us up in our endeavors or believed that our work is just as important as the faculty who brings in grant money.
We add value.
If the institution was seen as one that didn’t care about the weight of their degree, didn’t have the prestige behind their name, students would not be attending. Parents would not be investing money in that institution. Lori Loughlin would not have attempted to scam her children into University of Southern California. Well, maybe that’s why she chose that school in particular…At any rate upholding the integrity of the institution brings in students, which brings in money obviously.
Many people seem to have such a convoluted way of thinking about our offices. Like if we have a high number of cases all of a sudden our school is plagued as an unsafe school or the cheaters! How about we reframe the way our offices are perceived. Personally, I think it starts within the office. Instead of being disgruntled that another case came through, see it as an opportunity to be a change agent for that student. Of course that’s going to be hard as we deal with more drugs and alcohol cases, or Title IX or the third repeat offender who cannot understand what cheating actually is! If we reframe our thought process and instead of lecturing to your colleague about “why did they do this again!” because honestly, they won’t know; think of a way to shed light on the growth that can come from this experience. If we begin to see ourselves as catalysts for introspection and growth, we can begin to reframe our office as one of resource. If we work to get in front of students and parents sooner, and show them what our office is about, then hopefully they can see us as an additional resource for their students.
This is what has kept me motivated. It’s been a slow change but change none-the-less. We finally have a spot in our New Student Orientation and our office has worked incredibly hard to figure out the message we want to put out there. Doing this, landed us as the opening slide of the mandatory online orientation. We have a lot of programs that we are doing and I can feel the shift in culture. It has been through conversations with students, parents calling in grateful to have an office that is so student-growth focused, student honor council members excited to serve their beloved institution. It’s moments like these that I hold close on the days where it seems like nothing is worth it.