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Campus Dining Ins and OutsDavid Tuttle
First-year students are starting a new chapter: college! It’s a new chapter for parents, too.
As a Director of Residential Life, I know it’s not easy to leave your student on their own, whether this is the first or third time you’ve taken a child to college. It’s natural to experience a myriad of emotions, and sometimes anxiety predominates. You’ve been nurturing your student through every stage of life, and the thought of not being there as they navigate new experiences is nerve-wracking. Even the parents of first-year commuter students are nervous (though their students come home daily). These emerging adults are still your babies!
Campus housing staff are aware of how parents are feeling during the first semester of their student’s college journey. Many institutions offer programs, groups and events for family members to create a community of support. We’re there for you even as we encourage you to step back a bit to show confidence and trust in your student. Giving them space to develop into the person they desire to become is one of the goals of higher education.
Your first-year student’s living situation will play an important role in their adjustment to college. Schools want students to have a positive residential life experience! But it’s important to remember that there is no way to completely avoid some level of awkwardness or adversity during a student’s time on campus.
In recent years, I’ve found that many parents have unrealistic expectations of campus housing staff. There can be a “customer service” mindset, often accompanied by a sense that campus housing has an obligation to make things right for the customer (whether that’s the student or parent).
To avoid confusion and disappointment about campus housing policies and processes, here are three things it can be helpful to understand.
Many parents expect to receive a high level of personal attention from campus housing staff and get a phone call whenever there’s an issue with their student. In fact, college students are considered adults, and laws such as FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) are in place to protect their privacy.
There are staff available to support students in every aspect of the college experience. But it is the student’s responsibility to reach out for assistance. There are many ways students can connect with campus resources, and procedures in place for students who are struggling, whether academically or personally.
Housing staff will not call parents at every point of adversity; instead, it’s the student’s responsibility to communicate with their parents or guardians. However, housing staff can call parents for drug- and alcohol-related issues or when a student is a danger to themselves or others.
Another common expectation some parents have is that campus housing staff will help them track the whereabouts of their students. We often hear from parents concerned because their student isn’t answering the phone. Parents even arrive on campus and want to enter a student’s room “just to check in.”
We understand parents worry if they don’t hear regularly from their student. It takes a while to get used to the fact that you no longer know at all times where they are and what they’re doing. It’s natural to want to make sure they’re okay.
However, most residence halls have visitor policies which apply to family members, too. And unless it’s an emergency, there’s not much housing staff can do about locating a student who is not in their room or answering their phone. If there is an emergency with a student who hasn’t been seen or heard from for a specific amount of time, typically that situation is given to Public Safety.
Take some time during these early days of college to make a plan with your student about how often you will text or talk. This will put your mind at ease.
Over the years, I’ve had parents make some jaw-dropping requests such as personally waking up their student for class, cleaning rooms and helping students pack for move-out. Maybe because I’m known as “The Dorm Mom,” they assume I’ll do things for students that the students’ own parents might do at home.
I believe that these expectations spring from love and concern for their children. But since my goal is to foster independence, I encourage students to take care of things on their own. I’m always happy to help by providing clarification, verification or assistance finding resources to complete a task. And I’ve led classes in the residence halls (and taught private one-on-one lessons) on cooking, cleaning bathrooms, doing laundry and even time management.
College is a time of growth, and campus housing is the perfect supportive space for this growth to happen.
So, keep the lines of communication with your student wide open. Ask them what challenging situations they faced this week, what campus resources they took advantage of — and what they learned about themselves and their own capabilities along the way.