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Helping Faculty and Staff Address Worrisome Student Behaviors

The dean's Connections column for January 2009

Monk_sml.jpg(January 2009)

You may be aware that the College of Education worked last year with CAPS (the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services) and WPSU to prepare a new Web-based resource designed to help faculty and staff members deal with students who are behaving in odd and potentially worrisome ways. The project was prompted by the tragedies at several universities over the past few years and is designed to help troubled students obtain the help they need.

The project began with an invited workshop CAPS conducted for the College’s administrative leadership team in August of 2007. It quickly became apparent that there was not enough time at the workshop to address all the relevant issues. We were also very conscious of the fact that the workshop was not reaching the most relevant audience—namely, the faculty and staff members who interact most directly with students.

As we pondered how the insights from the workshop could be shared more broadly with faculty and staff in the College (as well as in the larger University), we recalled our earlier experience in the College using live drama to address diversity and multicultural issues. We wondered if we could harness the latest in electronic technology to make a permanent record of some dramatizations that would help people understand the issues and become better prepared to be helpful to students. These “wonderings” prompted us to consult with colleagues at WPSU, who were enthusiastic and eager to build on past collaborative efforts with CAPS. We also quickly realized that an instructional resource like this would require funding, and together the College, CAPS, and WPSU prepared a proposal that we took to President Spanier roughly a year ago.

We proposed a “pilot” effort to test the idea, and the president’s first question was, “Why do a pilot?” He had confidence in our ability to produce the dramatic vignettes and build the accompanying instructional resources, and he approved a grant from the President’s Future Fund to get the project under way.

He challenged us to have the Web site up and running before the start of the Fall 2008 semester, and we came very close to meeting this ambitious deadline. I encourage you to explore the site. It is structured around four professionally prepared vignettes that each run a couple of minutes. There are accompanying clips from panel discussions where knowledgeable people discuss the vignette and offer insights about how best to respond. The site also provides a one-stop shopping source for additional information and provides advice about how to interact with students in distress and where to go for more help.

This is not an easy topic to address, and I hope we have succeeded at providing faculty and staff with the tools they need to be genuinely helpful to our students and to each other. We do not want to reach the point where behavior that is quirky or simply different is equated with behavior that is worrisome and dangerous. Rather, we want to be observant and caring in our efforts to help people deal with whatever is troubling in their lives. I welcome your reactions to the site and will be happy to pass them along to our partners on the project. Thank you for giving your attention to this important set of issues.

David H. Monk