One grad student felt she was being slighted by the university doctor in the care of her broken ankle. Our staff member put on a tie and white shirt and accompanied the student to her appointment with the doctor. The doctor asked who he was, and the staff member simply replied “a friend”—but he looked like a lawyer. The doctor was very patient with the student and answered all of her questions that visit. The staff member said nothing, but his presence changed the nature of the interaction between the student and the doctor. Thus, the power of advocacy.
Sometimes students do not catch the intricacies of university policies or the idiosyncrasies of a professor’s requirements. Knowing the details of the university systems, or just knowing enough to ask what the details of the process are, is sufficient for the student to get access to the help they need. Sometimes it may be necessary to inquire about an appeal process and the steps to get a grievance addressed by a higher authority.
One advocate for a student who was being prevented from graduating simply read the school’s printed procedures, ascertained that the school did not follow those, and won an appeal to the dean which allowed the student to graduate (after doing one more step).
Careful listening along with prayer, patience, politeness, and persistence are the keys to effective advocacy for a student no matter what the issue. It may be necessary to explain some details to the student and provide coaching so the student knows what to say and how to act in the midst of the process. Your patient explanations are worth a fortune to the student.
Part of the coaching you provide may be to explain why taking the circumstances personally (and becoming angry) will not help one’s case advance in the direction the student would prefer. Our modeling reactions for the student will help provide a standard of practice that will be helpful later in life.
Principles cited in this blog: Advocacy is a powerful help to students who are in trouble. Sometimes our simple presence is enough for the student to get the help the need. Our careful listening, praying, and patience with the process is a helpful model to the student.
Application for ISI ministry: Sometime in each student’s experience with the university system they will feel slighted or transgressed. Our presence to help and to guide them is invaluable.
Next blog topic: What to do when students are physically sick
Doug Shaw with Derrah Jackson