Thursday, May 13, 2010


I just read a paper by a student that scares the dickens out of me. I'm not scared that the student is going to attack me or anyone else or anything, but more that the student is experiencing some sort of serious problem.

I'd sort of written this student off as one of those who fails a bunch of classes in the first year, and then either figures it out or not. But this paper makes me think there's something way more serious in play.

Yes, I've emailed the campus folks who are supposed to follow up on such things. And yes, I recognize that I may be totally wrong, and that this student may be perfectly wonderful. If that's the case, then I'll apologize to the campus folks (and the student if appropriate) with a great deal of relief.

My PhD in English lit really didn't prepare me for this sort of problem at all.


  1. Wish I had more to offer, but you're right...those situations ARE scary. Sounds like you handled it appropriately; I hope it works out.


  2. Yeah, our degrees don't prep us--yet isn't it too often on our plates to recognize and report and respond? And I hope you're supported soundly; in my school (a public high school) the counselors tell US to contact the parents and report our concern...Then they tell the CHILD that we've contacted them and said child needs to cool it. Which is, of course, not cool at all.

  3. Wow. Hope things work out for the better.

    Yeah, when we go to PhD school, they don't give us the sort of social work/law enforcement lessons that the job calls for at times, do they?

  4. also hoping the school follows up in an appropriate way to help your student.

    the year i ran a dorm, there were two residents with very serious (previously-diagnosed) mental health problems. they were very very bright, but it was scary and difficult when things fell apart for each of them. one went off her meds and became suicidal; she ended up getting back on track with therapy and medication support. the other had a psychotic break; it was way too much to deal with on campus, and she left school for treatment.

    privacy laws are much tighter now. i was reassurred when the dean of students at my daughter's college said something at orientation along the lines of "if your student's health or safety is in jeopardy, i will err on the side of contacting parents even if i'm bending the privacy laws."

  5. You did the right thing to contact the Campus Folks Who Follow Up. Because you just never know.

    A colleague and I followed up on a student's Facebook post earlier this year. This involved making calls, going to the student's home, and driving the student to the health center. Our degrees don't prepare us for this kind of thing at all.

    But our life experiences often do prepare us for such things. We may not be trained counselors, but we've been around the sun enough times to know that when something sounds wrong, it's because often something really IS wrong.

  6. TD is right, and a hero.

  7. Thanks, all.

    The good news is that I got an email back from one of the people campus folks who follow up on students with difficulties, time stamped a few minutes after 6am, saying that that person was already in touch and working with the student.

    So, yay for the campus followup squad!

  8. Good on you, and good on your campus, too.

  9. I was just talking to some colleagues about how the university should at least offer some optional classes for professors on how to deal with just these situations, or cases where we have students with Aspergers, for example. In some ways I think we should be required to have some training, but if people wouldn't go for that, I'd setting for an optional seminar or something.

  10. ianqui, i think that makes a lot of sense. we do a lot of that kind of training for lawyers, in my little corner of the law, which presents many opportunities to wear the social worker hat....

    even in the context of running the dorm, we had a week of "boot camp" to help staff anticipate and recognize difficulties, learn and talk through some responses, and know where the resources were. y'al probably don't need the fire department to come out and show you how to put out a mattress fire [as it turned out, we also used that knowledge my year], but knowing there is a campus followup squad that may be collecting info from various sources is useful.

  11. Ianqui and Kathy A, Hmm, there might be a good point to having some training about how to deal with students having certain sorts of problems.

    I see two potential problems, though. 1) I don't think we can train people for every possibility, but we surely can do better than we have. 2) I worry that people with a week of training may think they're actually qualified to do more than call the campus folks who are actually qualified. I have to confess, I think we phud types sometimes think we know more than we actually do about things we're not actually experts in.

  12. ideally, even a few hours of training will help convince even the phuddiest phuds that it's a good idea to call in [or consult with] the experts when something extra-weird presents itself. phuds can't be that much more inflated than lawyers, can they?