Assisting University Students with Personal Advocacy - National Council of Teachers of English
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Assisting University Students with Personal Advocacy

This is a guest blog by Lisa Hazlett, NCTE’s Higher Education Policy Analyst from South Dakota. 

LisaHazlettWhile university advocacy receiving nationwide attention is of course important, my experiences with advocacy as a university professor are quite different, yet equally significant and meaningful, for I quietly teach and assist students in supporting and endorsing themselves.

Students’ issues are similar, such as disagreements with evaluations, as are the emotions associated with them. Most feel helpless, believing change is impossible and retaliation certain. Lesson one is to remind students they have a voice in their education. It is their right to attempt to effect change, with doing so meaning both parties follow university protocols with civility.

When brought any issue, I speak honestly and thoroughly with the student and any other party involved.  Lesson two is that advocacy requires complete, accurate information.  If a student’s lesson plans are continually late, for example, this is a serious concern rather than an unfair evaluation. Lesson three, then, is students must fully understand their responsibilities.

If an existing committee already addresses a situation, such as placement location changes, only a letter is needed, which I also oversee.  Unfortunately, students are often least aware of policies regarding themselves.  Lesson four is ensuring students are aware of and understand university procedures.

When facing unexpected administrative decisions, such as additional coursework or other requirements deemed necessary to program completion, we follow policy, and I assist with submitting required documentation on time. Time limits are also misunderstood, but since late submissions abruptly end the request, lesson five is harsh yet significant: both parties are held to deadlines for timely, equitable resolutions.

While some view protocol as inaction or anti-student, I follow it exactly.  Doing so enables and protects both parties, and ensures each is professional, fully engaged, and proceeding toward resolution and closure in a timely manner.

When following procedure, success is high. In fact, students are awed and inspired by overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Regardless, they comprehend and respect protocol; once employed they understand and attempt to positively effect change, surely the goal of activism.