Today, I bought holiday stamps to send out my family’s annual Christmas cards. Yes, we are still one of those family’s that send about 80 each year. As I was standing in line at the post office, I said “please” and “thank you” to the postal worker. I do this each time I am there. This may simply be considered by some as being polite and courteous, and they would be correct. However, I have a vivid memory of when I was a little boy and my mom would drop me off at the curb at the post office so I could go in a buy a book of stamps. She would always say, “Don’t forget to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’” as I walked away. One day I remember asking why I should say that and she replied, “because you are asking for something from them and you want to be nice when you ask other people for things.”
When students begin their college career, they bring with them an abundance of experiences. Do we carry out our responsibilities as student affairs professionals to demonstrate value in these experiences? Are we so submersed in the life of our own institution that we consciously or subconsciously only value the experiences that are congruent with the values of the institution? This is a question I pondered after reading a colleague’s post several weeks ago. In it, Joe Sabado shared how important the values (among other things) his parents instilled in him have been to his current outlook and perspective. I have to agree with Joe, that the values my parents instilled in me are still with me today. Certainly, some of them have undergone revision or examination. But, for the most part, many of them remain.
This got me to thinking, do we care about the values parents instill in our students? Or, do we deem them a hindrance to be overcome when they are at odds with institutional or organizational values. Are we designing activities to help students better understand their values and why they hold them, or are we designing activities designed to change students’ values? These are all questions that popped up in my mind as I contemplated that simple statement of whether we appreciate the values instilled by parents. (I must note that often times in the field of student affairs, we will use the term “appreciate” to mean something similar to either “acknowledge” or “value.” In this case, I am referring to the “value” definition.)
How often do we talk with students about the values they learned at home in a manner that conveys we believe them to be important? When was the last time you asked a student to tell you about their family or what they learned from them? Conversely, when was the last activity designed to challenge students’ beliefs conducted? My guess is that the latter happened more recently. I would also guess that the latter happened without even knowing what the activity was challenging, i.e., the activity was probably challenging an assumption of college student beliefs rather than actual beliefs. In the end, we may feel good that we presented a session that was focused on helping students better understand themselves, yet, more likely than not, we did not understand the students any better when they entered that session than when they left.
As the semester winds down to a close, this question of what we value from our students’ backgrounds seems to be a good topic for reflection. Are we engaging students in a way that allows them to share who they are and how they came to be or are we attempting to engage them in activities that show who we are as institutions? Is there a way to merge the two that allows students to share their values while being immersed in those of your institution? If we are going to serve our students well, we need to want to understand their lives and their backgrounds, which includes the values and beliefs they hold as well as those instilled by their parents.
So, to bring this full circle, I am asking you the following: During the upcoming semester break/holiday period, please take some time to reflect on how you are learning about your students’ lives, values, and backgrounds. Think about how you can help students understand that values of the institution they attend while simultaneously demonstrating the importance of the values they already hold in helping to shape who they are.