Stripping Away Titles: Meeting Students Where They Need to be Met

I have this student- let’s call her Q. She calls me “Mom” when she is at school. I guess I find that fitting. I mean, when students are homesick- I cook them a meal, when students need to run an errand- I take them, when students needs help with an assignment- I assist them, when students need a quite place to do homework- I open my apartment up for them to sit at my table, and when students need a friend- I step away from my title, my degree, and my status- and I listen. Who else finds themselves doing the same things? Let’s face it. Students become our kids. All of a sudden we care so deeply about them and their well-being (beyond just their academics.)

So one day, Q stopped by and said she was homesick. She said “Mom, I have not had a home cooked meal since coming to college and I miss my family.” Later, she (along with another student) were walking past my apartment (because of course there is no privacy when you are a live-in professional) and saw me cooking. Being the person that I am, I invited them in for dinner. It was then I realized these students needed more than a Hall Director throughout the year.

Have you ever noticed how every student is different, but yet they all look to us for help in being successful?

There are students that set up meetings and want 30 minutes every week in our offices, there are students that literally never show up and we have to search campus to find out where they have been, there are students that would rather catch us at the gym during our “self-care” time to talk about important matters that really should be discussed behind closed doors, there are students that are walkers and talkers meaning they stop us in the cafeteria or on our quick jolt to our next meeting that we are already late too, and there are those students that want to talk about everything BUT school (meaning we learn a whole lot about their personal life.) All of our students are different and need different things. Right? And every Student Affairs professional knows we are the ones to provide those needs!

Photo For some of us it is easy and others it may be harder (I mean I understand! You worked hard for your degrees… can’t students realize that you earned your title?) to strip our titles away and meet students where they best thrive. In some cases, it is as simple as meeting them outside rather than inside because it makes them more comfortable and they feel more free to be expressive. While in other cases it may be taking students to the bus station because they do not have a ride to get home and they know they can count on you to help them in their tight situations. Of course there are the cases when we close our office doors and let students sit in there for hours telling us anything and everything, because what they need in that moment is someone they can trust and confide in. While most students see us a professionals, there are so many that see us as friends too. And isn’t that rewarding in it-self? Do we always have to go by Dr. or addressed by our last names or as the Director of X, Y, or Z… or can we just be us- let students see the side of us that is relatable to them.

Let’s go back to my student Q. She once told me that she wished she had someone like me in high school; someone to motivate her academically, professionally, and personally. She said I helped her freshman year because I was “there” for here in anyway she needed. It was flattering to know a student could value our relationship so much they go as far as to call me “mom.” And while I am 25 years old, (young enough to be some of these students sister, classmate, friend, etc.) to this student I was more. I shared my personal experience, my encouragement, and my care for her and in that she found someone that resembled a mother, not just a professional that oversees the residence halls.

Photo She isn’t the only one!

Despite your title (President, VP, Director, Coordinator, etc.) sometimes we have to strip them away and become “mom, friend, homie, etc.” and that’s okay- Let it happen.