Confessions of an Uninvolved Student

This is a further development of thoughts that occurred to me as I read and responded to John Gardner’s latest post.

I have worked in student affairs and I have a Master’s degree in that field. I am a PhD Candidate in one of the world’s best higher education programs. I work at the National Survey of Student Engagement. These experiences and education have firmly drilled into me the benefits of being engaged and active in campus groups, events, and activities. I see and hear from my colleagues and my students the incredible impact of these activities, especially the acquisition of lifelong friends.

Here’s my secret confession: I was involved in virtually nothing as an undergraduate and a Master’s student. I can only name two fellow students from my undergraduate alma mater; I’ve scarcely exchanged Facebook messages with them and haven’t spoken to them since I graduated from the University of Tennessee (with a 2.48 GPA; “C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me!“). The story isn’t much different for my Master’s classmates; with one exception, I only keep in touch with them through coincidental attendance at professional conferences.

My lack of campus involvement was my choice, for good or ill. It’s part of who I am and I can’t envision my life any differently. And I don’t think anyone could have convinced me to act differently or be different.

I make these confessions because I know there are many other students who are making the same decisions and I don’t think those students and their decisions are understood by or respected by many of my colleagues, especially those in student affairs. I get the impression that sometimes those students are viewed with pity and even scorn because they choose not engage in our favored activities in our chosen environment. And that saddens me, especially because we preach the benefits of diversity and choice. Many of us believe those students need to be “saved” but that seems very disrespectful of those students and their choices.

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  • http://csweiss.wordpress.com Chris Weiss

    Sounds like the basis for a (much needed, based on your argument) new student development theory. Something to fill in the alternative side to Astin’s (1984) and Kuh’s (2001) work with involvement and engagement. Interesting to think that we might have an unsubstantiated bias towards one end of the spectrum, perhaps even more pronounced if you consider student affairs to be a predominantly extroverted profession (I am not an extrovert, but feel the pressure to display the characteristics to ‘fit in’).

    You make a great case to remove the stigma with the opposite end of involvement theory. Since Astin and Kuh said that learning and development are directly related to amount of time on task, do you think there is value in pursuing and substantiating the claim that development can also still happen at the opposite end?

  • http://mistakengoal.com Kevin R. Guidry

    I don’t necessarily think we need new theory as much as we need to acknowledge that (a) diversity is always much wider than the categories and preconceptions with which we view the world and (b) students don’t need to have the same experiences we had in college even if our experience was truly fantastic and life-changing. (There may be some parallels here with the issues that some atheists are raising in regards to campus spirituality efforts; I haven’t fully thought through that, though…)

    I also don’t think that “time-on-task” needs to be reconceptualized or redefined; it’s still a sound theory that is both intuitive and supported by a lot of evidence. Instead, we need to think about (a) the tasks with which we’re concerned and (b) how we define success. Our job is not to help students do as much as possible or to ensure they participate in on-campus activities but to help them learn.

    I think that all I’m asking is that we better respect the choices others make even when we don’t understand or even approve.

  • http://saitoutloud.blogspot.com/ Eric T.

    Were you involved with things outside of campus/class life? Did you have hobbies? Or did you literally just come home from class and sit around? My point is, you could have been “involved” with things that interested you and had nothing to do with the school.

  • http://mistakengoal.com Kevin R. Guidry

    Excellent points! But is that how most student affairs professionals think of things? Do we really think of “commuter students” or “non-traditional students” as uninvolved or simply involved elsewhere?