A couple of things seem certain when it comes to the question of how student media advisers should engage with their students. First, every adviser’s “rules” are slightly different. Second, we all think we’re doing it right.
I made these observations after following a discussion among my adviser peers regarding how to interact professionally with students.
The “rules” of conduct that advisers seem to agree on are: don’t share hotel rooms with students, don’t do drugs with students (or hopefully otherwise) and don’t engage in any type of romantic or sexual relationship with students. These rules seem pretty obvious to me. I hope they do to others as well.
But advisers tend to disagree about some other student-related conduct, including whether it’s acceptable to have students at their homes, whether to hug students, if it’s ok to engage with students on social media, whether it’s acceptable to meet alone with students, whether advisers should attend student parties, and if they should drink with students.
Here’s where I stand on these issues related to student engagement.
I’m perfectly fine with having students as guests in my home. I’ve had editors at my home for retreats and end-of-the-year celebrations for years. I’ve also served breakfast at my home for staffers who attend our state collegiate press association’s conference because my house is about halfway between the university and the conference’s host university. My husband, children and sometimes other faculty are always present at these events in my home. Events in my home are never one-on-one, and my department chairman is always aware of them.
I’m not a toucher. I’m not the kind of person who freely gives hugs. But I recall times when I’ve hugged students. I’ve hugged students who have come to me about sexual assaults, illnesses or deaths. Interestingly, I can only recall hugging female students, although I don’t think this is intentional. I don’t make it a habit of hugging students, but I don’t make it a habit of hugging most people outside of my immediate family.
It’s difficult to determine how best to engage (or not) with students on social media. My Twitter and Instagram accounts are public, so students follow me on those platforms and vice versa. I typically try to follow each student who follows me, just out of reciprocity. I treat Facebook differently than the other mediums. I engage with students in Facebook groups and on my professional page, but I do not “friend” students until they graduate. The word “friend” has connotations to me that are outside of my relationship with students. I also share more things from my personal life (pictures of my children, for example) on my Facebook page because it’s where I interact with friends and family.
Meeting alone with students
I have professional meetings alone with students because sometimes they need to have a legitimate one-on-one discussion with me. I’ve met alone with students in my office, in conference rooms or in classrooms. I’ve also taken student editors to a meal or coffee. I would not meet alone with a student at my house or in any other residence.
Attending student parties
I would not attend a student party, nor do I understand why students would ever want me to attend their parties. I would not invite students to a party I was attending. I have attended baby showers, wedding showers and weddings of students, but usually after they’ve graduated. I typically just send a gift to these social events too, unless I think my presence is crucially important to the relationship.
Drinking with students
I’ve never drank with students, mostly because the university where I worked was a dry campus and students weren’t allowed to drink during university functions as a conduct policy. I don’t think I have an issue with having a drink at a dinner, awards ceremony, etc. with students who are 21, but I wouldn’t have more than a drink and that wouldn’t be the purpose of the event. I also wouldn’t buy a student a drink, nor do I think it’s appropriate for a student to buy me a drink.
Universities have rules about some of the interactions above, making them easier to manage. But I’ve found that adviser job descriptions are mostly non-existent, making these types of discussions among peers helpful.
What are your policies for engaging with students? Is there anything above that you strongly agree or disagree with? Let me know in the comments below.