I wanted to reflect on an interesting professional development experience I had this week attending a panel discussion of disruptive behavior in the classroom setting. The panel was designed for faculty members of OSU and on the panel was a number of influential and knowledgable professionals on campus, including the Vice Provost of Academic Affairs, Director of Student Conduct, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, Director of Affirmative Action and OSU’s legal counsel. The panel was advertised to address faculty concerns such as:
- What would you do if you felt a student’s classroom behavior was unsafe?
- What can you do if you find a student has posted inappropriate comments about you on a web site?
- What would you do if a student left a threatening note on your office door or mailed one to your home?
- What are your options if a student is making inappropriate sexual or racial comments in your class? What if those comments are directed toward you?
- What can you do if a student refuses to do an assignment based on his/her personal opposition to the material?
- What are your rights in the promotion and tenure process if a department chair or other administrator opposes your involvement in social justice teaching, research, and service?
- What are your rights when students give you lower teaching evaluations because of their personal, religious, and/or political opposition to the viewpoints you present in exploring social justice issues?
- Where do you go for help when you confront these difficult issues?
Obviously, with only two hours, we did not address half of these issues or potential concerns. However, it was an informative experience nonetheless. If you’ll indulge me, I would like to share some of my key observances and reflections.
My first observation was every faculty member in attendance was either a woman and/or person of color. I find it hard to ignore the implication of what it means when there is an all-campus open presentation on safety in the classroom and only members of underrepresented groups are in atendance. Without disclosing some of the personal stories shared in the forum, each person shared a negative interaction with a student that appeared (by their own self admission) to relate somehow to their identity or status as a female or minority faculty member. This included several female faculty members sharing about intimidating male behavior in their classrooms, sexual harrassment, and their expertise being challenged because of their gender.
In a career where I am so focused on the needs and support of students, I was struck by how little advocacy faculty felt they had, too – particularly faculty from underrepresented groups. I do not mean to imply this is a problem unique to OSU; I believe it is systemic across academia. Several faculty members mentioned their fears of responding to student’s behaviors lest it negatively affect their evaluations and progress towards tenure. One faculty member said she felt trapped because if she gave a student a low grade, her evaluation from the student would be unfairly negative. She said she felt pressure to give better grades so she would be given a better review by her department chair.
Another valuable insight I got from attending this panel was to see a collaboration between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs (ahh, “The Great Divide”). It struck me as very interesting that most faculty members did not seem to know the purpose and role of various services on-campus. Many had never heard of the Critical Incident Response Team, which in part responds to reports from faculty members concerned with a student’s behavior. I myself learned more about the role of the Affirmative Action office and their role in responding to disputes and conflicts between staff, students, and faculty. I wonder how faculty are typically introduced to these services and if they are encouraged to utilize them. One faculty member talked about being harrassed for over a year by a student and shared the psychological damages the experiences caused; yet there was no support for her. Students can utilize CAPS, but faculty are left to manage on their own. As the panel opened my eyes towards seeing students as less powerless in the faculty-student relationship, I wonder if we should be doing more for faculty, too.
I first had to ask myself “What is the responsibility of the institution to support faculty members?” I do not pause for a second to think any member of the OSU community – whether faculty, staff or student – should have the right to a positive working and learning experience on-campus. Whether they pay student fees or are paid by student fees, do we not have an obligation to respond to injustice and serve every member of our community? Yet, I get the feeling that in disruptive behavior situations, most of our energy goes towards the student. We connect them when appropriate to CAPS, advising, Disability Access Services, and Student Health Services. Yet the faculty member who had to respond to the student’s behavior or may have experienced personally the student’s disruptive behaviors (threat, harrassment, etc.)? What do we do for them? Do we assume they know to seek counseling off-campus privately? Do we assume the department chair can follow up with the faculty member and reach out in support? Do we assume that they can take care of themselves?
I dwell on this after the realization that we – both Student Affairs professionals and faculty members – are all potential victims of compassion fatigue. Day in and day out, we are involved in – and sometimes held responsible for, usually by our own caring selves – the success of other people. We give and give, emotionally investing ourselves. Some of us meet with students on a daily basis who tell us of heartbreaking experiences with discrimination, racism, personal crisis, failures and loneliness. We don’t want to complain; but it can be exhausting to be empathetic. Yet we are so used to taking care of students that we forget to take care of ourselves, and sometimes each other. I think we need to also recognize all of us could use the same support and services the campus provides for students. We may need five free sessions at CAPS or the compassion of a colleague just the same.
I am not entirely sure what should be expected from the institution and I am sure I can find 1,000 people who would oppose the idea of faculty being eligible to utilize services on campus (though if staff and faculty can buy a pass to Dixon for the year for a fee, why can’t we provide Faculty Wellness Passes at a nominal rate for access to CAPS and Health Services?). And of course I understand most offices are stretched thin as it is, just taking care of the 20,000 students at OSU. But I wonder if inviting faculty into Student Affairs offices may benefit students in the long-run, as their awareness of these services may help them to make referrals and promote our services.
Any thoughts, dear readers and colleagues?