Thursday, September 24, 2015

Time, Time, Tickin'

Here at NWU, the administrative folks have apparently just discovered that student suicide is a thing.

Since I've been here, we've had those memorial notices, usually along the lines of "X, a [something] major from [name of town] died unexpectedly last week.  Memorial services will be held at [local church] at [some day and time]."  And "everyone" knew these were almost certainly suicides.

But in that administrative way, they've suddenly decided that we all need to be aware and do something about the problem.  I don't know what prompted this sudden interest (maybe there's a new deanling in charge who always thought it was important but didn't have power or something), but this fall, student suicide is a thing.

I don't take suicide lightly.  But sudden administrative turns make me prick up my ears, so to speak.

Anyway, among other things, there's an "interactive module" educational thingy that NWU has signed up for, and our chairs are being encouraged to encourage us all to do the "interactive module" educational thingy.  There's even some special thing for the first department to have everyone do it.

Being the sort of faculty member who tries to be supportive of the chair (who's evidently being "encouraged" to get us all to do this), I did the "interactive module" thingy.  I will never get those 40 minutes back.  What a waste.

First, it feels like one of those "tick this box" things. 

Second, like much mass-produced interactive stuff, it's clumsy and irritating, and not actually very educational.  (I don't think I have any expertise in this area at all, but damn, this was stupid.)

It's set up as a "you're consulting" with a faculty member (a business prof, apparently) who's noticed some potential problems with five students.  Interestingly, the cartoon faculty member is a Black man, which has to be the result of a conscious choice by the folks who made this.  One of the cartoon students has a Hispanic name, but other than that, they're all white students.  The idea is that you read the faculty member's observations (which seem cranky and sort of hyper-observant), and then you "are there" while the faculty member meets in an office with the student, and you choose from bubble choices what approach to take next.

There are maybe 20 or 25 students in the class, and the faculty member has observed stuff from one student's apparent weight gain to a student wearing the same clothes often, and so on.  Hell, I can barely remember what I'm wearing right now without looking down; am I REALLY supposed to track what every student wears?  (And my classes aren't 100+ person lectures.)  Or whether they've gained a couple pounds?  Seriously?

Then we get to the interactions.  One is with a young woman who's been visibly upset; in the scenario, you learn that she's recently broken up with her boyfriend.  She says she wanted to kick him out of the apartment, but it's his, so she didn't.  And then the right choice is to tell her about the counseling center, but not to insist that she make an appointment.

Nothing about women's resources, domestic violence resources, homeless resources.  Nope.  Though I think we all know that a female student who was living with a male and then left might need those resources.  Except apparently, nope, we're supposed to think she's got friends and everything's hunky dory.

And so on.  There's the male student who's seemingly hearing voices, the student who's working too much, the student who doesn't feel like he fits in.  (He's the one with the Hispanic surname, but there's no option to recognize that systemic racism might be contributing, even though you'd think a Black professor would be aware of that possibility.  At least, I'm pretty sure all my Black colleagues are pretty aware of systemic racism.  Way more aware than I am, for sure.)


So, I don't think this interactive module thingy is really going to make a meaningful difference.  The thing is, I don't have any clue what might make a meaningful difference.

I have one clue: smaller class sizes.  I think I'm way more likely to notice a student's problem if I'm teaching 50 students in a semester than if I'm teaching 100.  And the likelihood that I'd notice one in 300, not likely at all.

Now, we've held our first year writing classes to 20 students through some very creative juggling.  But first year language classes are at something like 30 right now.  And Intro Women's Studies is at 55. (Intro to Women's Studies courses are, in my experience, a place where students recognize problems in their relationships and might feel that faculty members have skills to help change things.)

Students who are in big 100+ person lectures?  Those profs are going to have a lot harder time recognizing problems.


My questions of the day are:  is your administration suddenly making student suicide a thing?

And is there any meaningful way to help faculty members make a difference?  What are your experiences?


  1. No, my administration is suddenly making hazing a Thing, but as I'm not a sponsor of any student organization in which hazing is likely to occur, the impact of this crusade on me is minimal. It is interesting how particular causes -- most of them quite legitimate in themselves -- tend to suddenly fall in and out of favor with admins.

  2. We haven't discovered suicide, but I just wanted to commiserate on the internet interactive thingie. We have one for sexual harassment, and you have to spent 2 hours on it, so I go cook dinner in the middle because if you have half a brain, it's really hard to spend much more than an hour on it, unless you follow every single hyperlink. Sigh. These things are online education done WRONG.

  3. Anonymous5:11 PM

    Our new concern is "Title IX-related issues." As you would expect from the name, the explicit motivation is to avoid being sued and/or embarrassed by a government investigation.