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Speaking Up: Helping Students be their Own Best Advocate

October 8, 2019

Your student may contact you with stories about life in their room or in their classes; take heart, we find many of the issues have reasonable solutions. The difficulty may be that it is the first time your student has to advocate for themselves and be involved in finding the solution.

Students spend time in a dorm room.

Here, members of the Division of Student Affairs offers advice on how to help your student be their own best advocate.

Classroom and Roommate Issues

At the beginning of the year, students fill out a Dialogue Form that they are always free to update, revisit, or add to at any point in the semester. We concentrate our work with residential students on establishing roommate relationships from the first day the students arrive. Mid-semester, roommates will review the agreement to make sure it is still relevant, or if changes need to be made now that they have lived together.

Terri Travaglini, assistant dean of students and residential life, believes clear communication up front between roommates helps eliminate problems and misunderstandings as the semester progresses. She sees the top roommate issues students may encounter being cleanliness, time management, and bringing friends over.

What do you do if your student is having roommate issues? Travaglini says to ask your student if they have talked to the RA. If not, that is the first step. If they aren’t comfortable talking to the RA, the student needs to talk with the RD of the building who can help the student make a plan. Typically, room changes aren’t granted without making an effort to solve the issue with a roommate through Dialogue Form review, room meeting, roommate mediation, or some form of communication between the roommates first. This is why it is so important for your student to speak up at the beginning of the problem.

Exploring Independence

For many of our students, this is the first time they are living away from home. They will regularly face decisions and new situations and negotiating these situations isn’t always easy. Students need to make choices and have experiences that allow them to grow, figure out who they are, and what they stand for.

One of the College’s goals is to help your student transition into a responsible adult who is able to live independently. In addition, that means that while they are here, students are responsible for meeting the College’s expectations. Due to federal regulations, you will not receive information about their academics, behavior, deadlines, or due dates. The responsibility is now squarely on your student’s shoulders. Behaviorally, safety is of utmost importance and, in a community environment, having strong behavioral expectations is paramount to everyone’s well-being and safety. In addition to your standards, you can review the College’s expectations with your student while they are home on breaks.

How can you support their emerging independence? Students bring with them everything that you have taught them and they use that information when making decisions. With this, it’s important to clearly communicate academic and behavioral expectations with your student. We find if students are unclear about your standards and consequences, they may fear the worst and are less likely to share when they are struggling. Rebecca Kieffer, director of the Health and Wellness Center, describes the crucial balance between checking in with your student and encouraging their independence to have space to solve problems themselves. She explains that it is important to check in with your student and suggests parents establish a set time and date for calls. Students receive mid-term grades in mid-October; ask your student to share their grades or how a project went. Inquire about classes and how the general college experience is going, but maybe not every time there is a conversation as constant checking in can cause undue stress and anxiety on your student.

Academic Support Resources

What do you do if your student is having classroom issues outside of academic performance? Encourage your student to talk to the instructor directly. If your student needs more help, the second step is to make an appointment to see the department head. Your student can also contact the Math and Writing Center or Center for Career and Academic Planning to inquire about tutoring.

For those who attended Great Beginnings, our message to you was, “Help us help your students, help your students help themselves.” If we can be of any assistance to you as the semester and academic year progress, please contact us. We’re here to help!

Campus Resources for Students

For concerns of a personal nature:

  • Health and Wellness Center – (585) 385-8280
  • Office of Residential Life – (585) 385-8281
  • Assistant Dean of Students – (585) 385-8007
  • Safety and Security – (585) 385-8025/(585) 385-8111 (emergency)

For safety or security issues:

  • Safety and Security – (585) 385-8025/(585) 385-8111 (emergency)
  • Office of Student Conduct – (585) 385-8007
  • Assistant Dean of Students – (585) 385-8007