Caring for Students by Cutting Through Red Tape

Final exams are finally over (sorry – bad pun!), and students can head home for the holidays. I’ve been a little quiet in writing for this blog recently, and part of the reason is that I’ve been challenged to find ways to help students who find themselves in difficult circumstances.

There have been some structural changes in my university that I’ve mentioned before, and one task that moved onto my list of responsibilities is superintending the Withdrawals and Incomplete Grade Contracts processes. At Trinity Western University, these processes are available for students who are facing something too big to handle without help.

Students don’t normally withdraw from the university in October or November unless a BIG, LIFE CHANGING EVENT has hit them square between the eyes. Sometimes it’s an illness, sometimes an accident, occasionally a family crisis. Red tape rigamarole is not going to help. Policy? Paperwork? Really? No!!

There’s no substitute for personal care and attention when a crisis hits. It doesn’t matter what I think of the crisis, either. All the matters is what the student sees as the crisis. But the right person can make all the difference. Here’s an example.

A student came with her mother to withdraw because she was in a personal crisis: she was exceedingly lonely, overwhelmed with the workload, unhappy with her room mate, and things were not going well at all. The person at the front desk could tell that the mother was supportive of the daughter but would really rather that her daughter stayed in school.

The staff member who was well-trained and experienced at this started by asking the student why she chose TWU, what she was looking for in a school, why she chose the program she did, etc. She got the girl talking about her hopes and dreams and aspirations. She fished for the issues and listened, but didn’t make any judgments. In the process of talking, the student’s attitude changed from wanting to quit and walk away to wanting to stay and achieve, but seeking help.

That was the opening the staff member was looking for.

The student got a new dorm mate, was invited to a social club, and had a consultation with the Student Success Centre. And [pardon me while I check…], yes, her grades are good and she’s registered for next semester!

I hope our universities are never too ‘big’ to offer this kind of personal care. It can make all the difference in the world.

Merry Christmas!

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