I asked Tara Affolter, visiting assistant professor of education studies, and Hector Vila, assistant professor of writing, to share with us their philosophy about advising students. In this week’s post, Tara and Hector discuss their role as advisers—of the whole student. They provide an enlightening viewpoint. Please chime in with your comments and observations.
—Shirley M. Collado
Def. Advising. To advise. To counsel, to suggest and give guidance, personal and professional.
“I’m useless. I don’t know,” said the student. “I’m feeling lost. Can we talk?”
“Do I have to take a science course, I’m terrible in science?”
“I don’t know what to major in—and everyone I know is either a joint major or a double major. I’m scared.”
“I can’t seem to fit in. I’m so depressed.”
“If I ask for help, I will have failed.”
The classic notion of the liberal arts requires that we examine the proximity of the teacher to the student. The liberal arts suggest a kind of intimacy existing between the student, the teacher and the exchange of knowledge. Worried that a student may be too reliant on the wisdom contained in books, Seneca in his Letters, says that, “It is one thing to remember, another to know. To remember is to safeguard something entrusted to memory. But to know is to make each thing one’s own, not to depend on the text and always look back to the teacher.”
Seneca provides several challenges to us: we must examine our relations and proximities to our students; that we then likewise describe the context in which the liberal arts are expressed; and that we try to learn about our students’ implicit scholarship in pop music, sports, fashion, and media so as to better understand how to create a dialog between us that is creative, positive, and safe.
When a student first presents herself to us during the extraordinarily short initial advising meeting, at the first FYSE face-to-face, we have but 25 minutes to decide whether we will see the entire student or whether we will be concerned with the students solely from the shoulders up—her academic life solely. Working to see the entire student is the only possible method by which to ascertain what the student has made her own, as Seneca suggests. It’s the first requirement of a liberal arts education.
Students are perplexed by many things—the nature of our tightly compressed world, its complexities and future; the nature of the idiosyncratic academy requiring that students enter into and comply with academic literacies that, in their minds, may or may not have anything to do with the world as they experience it; and their evolving identities as they come into close contact with challenging social moments.
Advisers help students navigate these murky waters and invite students to explore. This takes time—and patience. It requires that we ask difficult questions—why do you feel lost? Why is it important what other kids are doing? When did you start feeling like this about science?
This line of questioning brings us closer to our students. It is an essential component of the liberal arts. It enables the student and the teacher to learn together.