Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to a colleague about her frustrations after working for six years in the field: “they still don’t get it” she said referring to the challenges she had with ending hazing on her campus.
Sadly, “they” will never get it. “They”, as a term we use to generalize a population, is all too encompassing and far reaching for any student affairs professionals – even the best out there! Particularly for traditional aged students (though possibly applicable to many adult students), the developmental challenges of life and the dynamics of engagement in a campus community renders most students not quite ready to have some of the discussions we need to have in order to affect change. These students have ways of knowing that have been informed by years and years of other influences before they come to our campus. “They” are bigger and stronger than any one of us. It’s not impossible to influence a “they” but spending all of our time beating ourselves up because we haven’t been successful is not a good strategy.
So then how do we implement and sustain change? We have the conversations with students that help them develop the skills they need, including interpersonal development, critical thinking, practical competence, etc, so that when they have the opportunity to make decisions they make ones that are in the best interest of others, not just themselves. These conversations likely don’t happen in masses. They tend to happen one on one or a few on one. They also tend to happen only with the leaders or the worst students out there, disregarding many of the students “in the middle” who need to have the conversations the most.
So, maybe it’s time to rethink our expectations that “they” should get it. What does this mean?
It means rethinking how we educate the masses. It means developing the competence and confidence to have the conversations needed to affect and sustain positive change. It means making sure those conversations are tailored to the audience. It’s going to mean rethinking concepts of advising and helping and the time we spend with students. It also means that we have to realize that this is not personal, it’s not about us and that we are not failures when things don’t change drastically. We are only failures if we continue to tackle the same issues in the same ways and hope for better results. They’re going to stay the same age, you’re going to get older and frustrated. “They” will win.