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Unformatted text preview: In this chapter you
will explore Confessions of a COLLEGE STUDENT . . . ‘‘ ’’ ROBERT HUFFMAN, 18
Florida Atlantic University success in college have to do with relationships? As college educators, we have learned from our own experiences
and the experiences of others that the quality of the relationships students
develop in college can have positive or negative effects on all aspects of their
success in college.
Relationships take many forms. If you live on campus, one of your primary relationships, for better or worse, will be with your roommate or suitemates. Another important set of relationships will be with your instructors.
You might choose to get to know your instructors or to ignore them outside
of class, but the quality and frequency of the interaction you have with them
can affect how well you do academically.
Whether you live on or off campus, you will continue a relationship with
your parents, spouse, children, or other family members. Sometimes the assumptions and expectations that define family interactions will change, and
negotiating that change is not always easy. Parents sometimes have trouble
letting go of a son or daughter, and if you are fresh out of high school, you
might feel that your parents still want to control your life. If you are an adult
with a spouse or partner, going to college will give you a new identity that
might seem strange or threatening to your partner. If you have children, they
might not understand what’s going on as you try to balance your need for
study time with their need for your undivided attention. If your friends also go to college, you will have a great deal to share and
compare. But if your friends are not college students, they, too, might feel
threatened as you take on a new identity. And romantic relationships can support you or can create major conflict and heartbreak, depending on whether
your partner shares your feelings and whether the relationship is healthy or
This chapter will help you to think about all these different kinds of relationships, including those that are established and maintained online. One of the most important types of relationships you can develop in college
is with your course instructors. The basis of such relationships is mutual
respect. Instructors who respect students treat them fairly and are willing to
help them both in and out of class. Students who respect instructors come to
class regularly and take their work seriously. While instructors’ expectations might vary depending on a particular course,
most instructors will expect their students to exhibit attitudes and behaviors
that are basic to student success. They will expect you to come to class, do the
assigned work to the best of your ability, listen and participate, think critically
about course material, and persist—that is, not give up when a concept is difficult to master. Instructors also expect honesty and candor. Many instructors
will invite you to express your feelings about the course anonymously in writing through one-minute papers or other forms of class assessment.
Generally college instructors expect that you’re going to be self-motivated
to do your best. Your grade school and high school teachers might have spent
a great deal of time thinking about how to motivate you, but college faculty
will usually consider this to be your personal responsibility. The expectations you have for college instructors may be based on what you
have heard, both positive and negative, from friends, fellow students, and
family members. But you will find that instructors vary in basic personality
and in experience. You might have instructors who are in their first year of
teaching, either as graduate students or as new professors. Other instructors might be seasoned professors who have taught generations of new students. Some will be introverted and difficult to approach; others will be open,
friendly, and willing to talk to you and your classmates.
But no matter what their level of experience, basic personality, or skill as
a lecturer, you should expect your instructors to grade you fairly and provide
meaningful feedback on your papers and exams. They should be organized,
prepared, and enthusiastic about their academic field. And they should be accessible. You should always be able to approach your instructors if you need
assistance or if you have a personal problem that affects your academic work. Contrary to what you might have heard, most college instructors appreciate
your willingness to ask for appointments. Though it might seem a little scary,
the best way to establish an appropriate relationship with an instructor is to
schedule an appointment early in the term. At this meeting, introduce yourself, tell why you are taking the course (besides the fact that it’s required), and
what you hope to learn from it. Ask about the instructor’s academic background and why he or she chose college teaching as a career. You can learn a
great deal about your instructor from simply looking around the office. There
will often be pictures of family members or animals or travel locations. The relationships you develop with instructors will be valuable to you
both now and in the future. People who become college faculty members do
so because they have a real passion for learning about a particular subject.
If you and your professor share an interest in a particular field of study, you
will have the opportunity to develop a true friendship based on mutual interests. Instructors who know you well can also write that all-important letter of
reference when you are applying to graduate or professional school or seeking your first job after college. Colleges and universities have promoted the advancement of knowledge by granting professors academic freedom—the virtually unlimited freedom of speech and
inquiry as long as human lives, rights, and privacy are not violated. Such freedom
is not usually possible in other professions.
Most college instructors believe in the freedom to speak out, whether in
a classroom discussion about economic policy or at a political rally. Think of
where education would be if instructors were required to keep their own ideas to
themselves. You won’t always agree with your instructors, but you will benefit
by listening to what they have to say and respecting their ideas and opinions.
Academic freedom also extends to students. Within the limits of civility
and respect for others you will be free to express your opinions in a way that
might be different from your experience in high school or work settings. Although there is a potential in any environment for things to go wrong,
problems between students and instructors that cannot be resolved are rare.
First, ask for a meeting to discuss your problem. See whether the two of
you can work things out. If the instructor refuses, go up the administrative
ladder, starting at the bottom: department head to dean, and so on. If the
problem is a grade, keep in mind that academic freedom includes the right of
an instructor to grade you as he or she sees fit and that no one can force the
instructor to change that grade. Most important, don’t let a bad experience
sour you on college. Even the most trying instructor will be out of your life
by the end of the term. When all else fails, resolve to stick with class until the
final exam is behind you. Then shop carefully for instructors for next term
by asking fellow students, your academic advisor, and others whose advice
you can trust. One of the best things about going to college is meeting new people. In fact,
scholars who study college students have found that you’ll learn as much—or
more—from other students you meet as you’ll learn from professors. Although
not everyone you hang out with will become a close friend, you will likely
find a few relationships that are really special and might even last a lifetime. Adjusting to a roommate is a significant transition experience. You might
make a lifetime friend or end up with an exasperating acquaintance you wish
you’d never known. A roommate doesn’t have to be a best friend—just someone with whom you can share your living space comfortably. Furthermore,
your best friend might not make the best roommate. In fact, many students
have lost friends by rooming together.
With any roommate, it’s important to establish your mutual rights and responsibilities in writing. Many colleges provide contract forms that you and
your roommate can use. If things go wrong later, you will have something to
If you have problems with your roommate, talk them out promptly. Talk
directly—politely but plainly. If problems persist or if you don’t know how to
talk them out, ask your residence hall counselor for help; he or she is trained
to help resolve roommate conflicts.
Normally, you can tolerate (and learn from) a less than ideal situation;
but if things get really bad and do not improve, insist on a change. If you are
on campus, talk to your resident assistant (RA) or to a professional counselor
in your campus’s counseling center. Social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace are very popular
with college students. While there are both positives and negatives associated
with using social networking sites, one thing is certain: Entering college students
rarely examine what they post online, the effects their online statements have
on others, and the benefits and pitfalls of using social networking sites.
Social networking websites are wonderful tools to help you keep connected to your friends from high school and to your new friends in college.
What you might not know is that you can also use social networking sites for
more than just staying in touch with friends. Facebook can help you become
more engaged in life on your campus. If you are a returning adult student,
you might feel that learning how to use something like Facebook will be a
daunting task. However, returning adult students, like traditional-age students, can learn a great deal about academic life and the campus community
from being involved on Facebook.
You might also use Facebook to help you learn more about your instructors.
When students read an instructor’s Facebook profile, they might be surprised to
learn that instructors are people too and engage in everyday activities such as exercising and watching movies. Learning a bit more about your professors can help
you feel more comfortable participating in class discussion and asking for help.
Now for the downside: It is easy to get lost in reading profiles, status updates,
notes, and checking out your friends’ photos. Students often describe social
networking websites as “addicting,” which could interfere with your academic
success and your well-being. You might have found that you spent much more
time on Facebook than you expected and don’t have enough time to finish your
work. Some students use technology to the exclusion of other activities in their
lives. If you find yourself struggling to keep up with your real-world commitments and relationships because you are spending so much time on Facebook, it
might be a good idea to talk to someone at your campus counseling center. Not only does college present an opportunity to make lots of new friends,
it is also a place where romantic relationships flourish. Although some beginning college students are married or are already in long-term committed
relationships, others might have their first serious romance with someone
they meet on campus. If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered, you
might find it much easier to meet romantic partners in college than you ever
have before. Whatever your sexual orientation, you’ll have many opportunities; some students will sample lots of different choices, and others will settle
in with just one person. Either way, you’ll grow and learn a great deal about
yourself and those with whom you become involved. If you are seriously
thinking about marriage or a long-term commitment, consider this: Studies Wired WINDOW show that the younger you are, the lower are your odds of a successful marriage. Also, a “trial marriage” or living together does not necessarily decrease
your risk of later divorce. It is important not to marry before both you and
your partner are certain about who you are and what you want in life. Many
18- to 20-year-olds change their outlook and life goals drastically as they get
older, which can negatively affect a romantic relationship. Breaking up is hard, but if it’s time to end a relationship, do it cleanly and calmly.
Explain your feelings and talk them out. If you don’t get a mature reaction, take
the high road; don’t join someone else in the mud. If you decide to reunite after a
trial separation, be sure enough time has passed for you to evaluate the situation
effectively. If things fail a second time, you might need to move on.
If your partner breaks up with you, you might find yourself sad, angry,
or even depressed. If your partner breaks up with you online or you learn
about an imminent breakup through instant messaging, social networking
websites, or blog postings, ask to discuss the matter over the phone or in person. Almost everyone has been rejected or “dumped” at one time or another.
Let some time pass, be open to emotional support from your friends and your
family, and, if necessary, pay a visit to your college counselor or a chaplain.
These skilled professionals have assisted many students through similar experiences, and they can be there for you as well. Bookstores and your library
will also have good information on the topic of surviving a breakup. It is never wise to become romantically involved with your professor or someone who works above or for you. Many of these relationships end in a breakup.
Imagine how you would feel if your ex, who might be hurt or bitter or even
want you back, still had control over your grades or your job! If you date a
subordinate and the relationship ends, you might find yourself being accused
of sexual harassment, fired, or sued. Even dating coworkers is risky; it will be
much harder to heal from a breakup if you must continue to work together. Almost all first-year students, no matter what their age, are connected to other
family members. Your family might be a spouse and children, a partner, or your
parents and siblings. The relationships you have with family members can be a
source of support throughout your college years, and it’s important that you do
your part to maintain those relationships. Can marriage and parenting coexist with being a college student? The answer, of course, is yes, although linking all of these identities—student,
spouse, parent—will not be easy. If you are married or in a long-term relationship, with or without children, you will need to become an expert at time
management. The responsibilities of your roles might come into conflict, and
you’ll need to know what comes first and when. Most college instructors will
be flexible with requirements if you have genuine problems with meeting a
deadline because of family obligations. But it’s important that you explain
your situation; don’t expect your instructors to be able to guess what you
need. As the demands on your time increase, it is important that you and
your partner share the burdens equally.
Occasionally, deciding to go to college can create conflict within a family. Partners and children can be threatened and intimidated if you take on
a new identity and set of responsibilities. Financial pressures are likely to
put an extra strain on your relationship, so both you and your partner will
have to work hard at attending to each other’s needs. Be sure to involve your
family members in your decision to go to college. Bring them to campus at
every opportunity, let them read your papers and other assignments, and find
out whether your partner can take a course too. Finally, it’s very important
to carve out time for your partner and your family just as carefully as you
schedule your work and your classes. Whether you live on campus or at home, your relationship with your parents
will never be quite the same as it was before. You might find that your parents hover over you and try to make decisions on your behalf, such as your
major, where and how much you work, and what you do on weekends. In
fact, some instructors and administrators have coined the term “helicopter
parents” to describe parents who exhibit these hovering behaviors. You also
might find that it’s hard for you to make any decisions without talking to your
parents first. While communication with your parents is important, don’t let
them make all your decisions. Your college
or university will help you draw the line between what decisions should be yours alone
and what decisions your parents should help
Many college students are living in
blended families, so more than one set of
parents is involved in their college experience. If your father or mother has remarried,
you might have to negotiate with both family units.
So how can you have a good relationship with your parents during this period
of transition? A first step in establishing a
good relationship with them is to be aware
of their concerns. Parents are often worried that you’ll harm yourself in some way. They might still see you as young and
innocent, and they don’t want you to make the same mistakes they might
have made or experience situations that have been publicized in the media.
They might be concerned that your family or cultural values will change or
that you’ll never really come home again. For some students, this is exactly
But remember that parents generally mean well. Most of them love their
children even if their love isn’t always expressed well. They have genuine
concerns that you will understand even better if and when you become a parent yourself. To help your parents feel more comfortable with your life in college, try setting aside regular times to update them on how things are going for
you. Ask for and consider their advice. You don’t have to take it, but it can be
useful to think about it, along with the other factors that will help you make
Not every family is ideal. If your family is not supportive, find other
people who can help you create the family you need. With your emotional
needs satisfied, your reactions to your real family will be much less painful.
What should you do if your family falls apart? Divorce happens, and
sometimes it happens when a son or daughter goes to college. It can be hard
to proceed with life as usual when the family foundation seems to be cracking under you. But remember that your parents are adults. If your father and
mother decide to go their separate ways, it’s not your fault, and you should
not feel responsible for their happiness.
Even if you’re successful in determining appropriate boundaries between
your life and your parents’ lives, it’s hard not to worry about what’s happening
at home. So seek help from your campus’s counseling center or from a chaplain if you find yourself in the midst of a difficult family situation. Colleges and universities can seem to be huge and unfriendly places, especially
if you went to a small high school or grew up in a small town. To feel comfortable in this new environment, it is important for you to find your comfort zone
or niche. It’s not hard to find the place where you belong, but it will take some
initiative on your part. Consider your interests and the high school activities you
enjoyed most, and choose some activities to explore. You might be interested in
joining an intramural team, performing community service, running for a student
government office, or getting involved in your residence hall. Or you might prefer
joining a more structured campuswide club or organization.
Almost every college has numerous organizations you can join; usually,
you can check them out through activity fairs, printed guides, open houses,
web pages, and so on. Even better, consider attending one of the organization’s
meetings before you make the decision to join. Find out what the organization is like, what the expectations of time and
money are, and whether you feel comfortable with the members. New students who
become involved with at least one organization are more likely to survive their first
year and remain in college.
Be careful not to overextend yourself
when it comes to campus activities. While
it is important to get involved, joining too
many clubs or organizations will make
it difficult to focus on any given activity
and will interfere with your studies. Future
employers will see a balance in academics and campus involvement as a desirable
quality in prospective employees. Don’t
fall into the trap of thinking that more is
better. In campus involvement, as in many
things, quality is much more important
than quantity. Greek social organizations are not all alike, nor are their members. Fraternities
and sororities can be a rich source of friends and support. Some students love
them. Other students find them philosophically distasteful, too demanding
of time and finances, or too constricting. Members of Greek organizations
sometimes associate exclusively with other members, and this exclusivity can
cause them to miss opportunities to have a more varied group of friends.
Greek rush (member recruitment) on your campus might happen before you
have had an opportunity to decide whether you want to go Greek or to determine which fraternity or sorority is right for you. There is nothing wrong
with delaying a decision about Greek membership. In fact, we would argue
that it’s better to learn your way around campus and meet lots of different
friends before committing to a particular organization. Fraternities and sororities are powerful social influences, so you’ll definitely want to take a good
look at the upper-class students who are in them. If what you see is what you
want to be, consider joining. If not, steer clear.
If Greek life is not for you, consider the many other ways in which you
can make close friends. Many campuses have residence halls or special floors
for students with common interests or situations, such as first-year students;
honors students; students in particular majors; students with strong ethnic or
religious affiliations; students who do not use tobacco, alcohol, and drugs;
students who are interested in protecting the environment; and so on. Check
these out. Often, they provide very satisfying experiences. One of the best ways to develop relationships with instructors and administrators on your campus is to get an on-campus job. Generally, your oncampus supervisors will be much more flexible than off-campus employers in
helping you balance your study demands and your work schedule. You might
not make as much money working on campus as you would in an off-campus
job, but the relationships you’ll develop with influential people who really
care about your success in college and who will write those all-important reference letters make on-campus employment well worth it. Consider finding a
work experience that is related to your intended major. For instance, if you
are a premed major, you might be able to find on-campus work in a biology
or chemistry lab. That work could help you to gain knowledge and experience and to make connections with faculty experts in these fields.
If an on-campus job is not available or you don’t find one that appeals to
you, an off-campus job is also a good way to meet new people in the community. However, it’s important that you restrict work to a reasonable number
of hours per week. Although you might feel that you have to work in order
to pay your tuition or living expenses, many college students work too many
hours just to support a certain lifestyle. Be careful to maintain a reasonable
balance between work and study. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “I can
do it all.” Too many college students have found that doing it all means not
doing anything well.
Many schools have co-op programs in which students spend some terms
in regular classes and other terms in temporary paid employment in their
field. Although such programs will usually prolong your education somewhat, they have many advantages. They offer an excellent preview of what
work in your chosen field is actually like, thus helping you determine whether
you have made the right choice. They give you valuable experience and contacts that will help you get a job when you finish school; in fact, many firms
offer successful co-op students permanent jobs when they graduate.
Alternating work and school terms might be more suitable for you than
eight or ten straight terms of classes, and it might help you keep your ultimate
goal in mind. Co-op programs can help you pay for school too; some co-op
students, especially in technical fields, make almost as much, or even more,
during their co-op terms as their professors do! As a first-year student, you will spend much of your time on campus, either
going to class, studying, or hanging out with other students. But there are also
ways in which you can get involved in the surrounding community. Consider
volunteering for a community service project such as helping at an animal
shelter, serving the homeless at a soup kitchen, or helping to build or renovate
homes for needy families. Your college might offer service opportunities as
part of first-year courses (service learning), or your campus’s division of student affairs might have a volunteer or community service office. You can also
check Volunteer Match (http://www.volunteermatch.org/) for opportunities
in your area. Simply enter your ZIP Code and, if you wish, key words to help
you find volunteer work in your field of interest. Where to go FOR HELP . . . Chapter REVIEW . . .
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