Academic Concerns

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The Student Who is Struggling Academically

Wellesley students are highly academically gifted students who have succeeded throughout their lives; nonetheless, some of them will struggle at Wellesley. When students do not succeed academically at Wellesley, the reason is virtually never that they are intellectually incapable of doing the work; something outside school gets in their way: a mismatch with the program, alcohol, illness, emotional problems, family issues, financial difficulties, immaturity, or lack of motivation or discipline. Many Wellesley students who struggle academically are doing so for the first time in their lives. They are used to succeeding, and their reactions to not doing well in a course vary widely. Some students will withdraw into silence. Some will complain loudly that a poor grade will ruin their lives, derailing their plans for medical, law, or business school. Some will doggedly persevere.

When students are being affected by challenges that stem from matters largely outside their control (i.e. loss of a loved one, family conflict, mental illness), it is important to find a balance between maintaining the academic standards that contribute to the integrity of the College and helping to support students with some level of academic flexibility. The Class Dean’s office is equipped to support students through their struggles. Therefore, you need to inform the student’s Class Dean when a students perform poorly. If a student persists in insisting that a D will ruin her life, refer the student to her Class Dean (and phone or email the office to alert the staff, in case the student does not follow through). Once the Dean has been informed about a particular student’s difficulties, they will be able to check whether the student has broader problems or whether the difficulty is isolated (not all students, after all, will succeed in every subject).

A student’s Class Dean can be reached by email or phone at 781-283-2825. If the student’s particular Class Dean is not available, another Dean will talk to you. The Class Dean’s office is open weekdays from 8:30-4:30. Class Deans: Susan Cohen, John O’Keefe, Joy Playter, Jennifer Stephan, Lori Tenser (Dean assignments vary from year to year; for a current list, visit http://www.wellesley.edu/advising/classdeans.)

You may also contact the Counseling Service at 781-283-2839 for a consultation or refer the student directly to Counseling. The Counseling Service is open weekdays from 8:30-4:30.

What to Do

Avoid

Give students the grades they earn. If you announce on your syllabus an attendance policy, abide by it. If your syllabus states that you will not accept late work, do not accept it. 

HOWEVER:

  • Be flexible when there are extenuating circumstances (recent loss, illness, mental health struggles) impacting the student.
  • Develop a plan that may involve a variety of helpers: a Class Dean, the Counseling Service, and/or the PLTC.
  • Discuss your concerns with the student’s Class Dean if you are unsure about what a student reports to you.
  • Refer the student to the Counseling Service for additional support when indicated.
  • Asking the student for a health care professional to verify reported physical or mental health issues; this damages a student’s confidentiality and can be experienced as intrusive. Remember that the Honor Code is a system of mutual trust and respect upon which we base our community.
  • Compromising your own sense of academic integrity in order to accommodate a student; instead, consult with the student's Class Dean or a member of the Counseling Service to problem-solve if you are unsure about how accomodating to be with a student who is struggling

Responding to Disturbing Content in Written or Artistic Work by a Student

Faculty members sometimes find disturbing comments in the written work of students, such as:

  • disclosure of personal trauma or abuse
  • references to suicidal thoughts or severe depression
  • violent or morbid content that is disturbing or threatening
  • sexual content that is disturbing or excessively graphic
  • bizarre or incoherent content
  • disclosure of severe problems with alcohol or drug abuse

Such writing may simply indicate a dramatic or unusual style but may also suggest psychological or emotional problems or possible danger to self or others. It also may indicate a bid for attention or a cry for help. The following guidelines may help determine whether there is reason for concern and how best to respond.

What To Do

Avoid

  • In your written comments: Acknowledge the content with comments like, “That must have been hard for you.” Invite discussion with comments like, “Sounds like that was difficult for you—do you have someone to talk with about this?” or, “If you would like to talk about this, stop by after class or during office hours.” An email to the student is also an excellent way to communicate your initial concerns and ask the student to come to talk with you.
  • Consider the student’s behavior in class and whether that reinforces or decreases your concern. For example, writing about suicide is more concerning if the student appears sad, withdrawn, or angry.
  • Consult with the student’s Class Dean. The Counseling Service is also available for consultation to determine if referral, immediate intervention, or outreach to the student is indicated. A counselor may also provide suggestions about how to talk with the student.
  • When meeting with the student, ask about the inspiration for the work, to provide a context and see if the student has been influenced by similar writings (e.g., Stephen King). Consider asking the student directly if she is thinking about suicide or other destructive behavior.
  • Refer the student to the Counseling Service for additional support.
  • Meeting with the student alone if you feel threatened or uneasy; consult the Class Dean, Counseling Service, and/or Campus Police and consider having another person at the meeting or other options to ensure safety.
  • Extending yourself beyond your role; know your limits. Remember, your role is as a professor, not counselor. Even a brief acknowledgment or expression of concern can be very meaningful and helpful to a student; however, the conversation does not need to be lengthy if that is beyond your limits.

The Student Who Is Disrespectful, Demanding, or Requires More Attention

In the course of teaching students, there are invariably some students whose personal styles create interpersonal difficulties for those around them. A student who presents with a disrespectful or demanding attitude  can be intrusive and persistent and require much time and attention. You may encounter:

  • A sense of entitlement
  • An unwillingness to listen
  • A need for control
  • An inability to take “no” for an answer
  • Difficulty dealing with ambiguity
  • Difficulty with structure and limits
  • Verbal abuse toward others
  • Dependency fears about handling life challenges

Demanding traits can be associated with stress and/or an indicator of emotional distress, so it is important to consider that there may be underlying concerns driving a student’s disrespectful behavior. Some students arrive on college campuses with interpersonal skills honed in a less stressful environment where less is expected of them and more support is available, or where they have not been allowed to act independently. Students may be used to operating in a smaller academic community, where it is easier to access needed information, parental figures are available to help, and much more of their life is structured for them. When faced with greater challenges in a larger community, students may find that they are overwhelmed and lack necessary skills to adroitly negotiate college situations.

What To Do

Avoid

  • Talk to the student in a place that is semi-private.
  • Set clear limits and hold the student to the allotted time for the discussion.
  • Label and clearly state behaviors that aren’t acceptable.
  • Be aware of your own tolerance level and how much you can offer a student on any particular day and time.
  • Remain calm and in control.
  • Develop a plan that may involve a variety of helpers: a Class Dean, the Counseling Service, and/or the PLTC.
  • Consult with a Class Dean or the  Counseling Service; the help of a colleague can sometimes make it easier to set boundaries, check lists of available resources, get another opinion on the student's distress, and not carry the burden alone.
  • Refer the student to the Counseling Service for additional support.
  • Arguing with the student.
  • Getting involved in a power struggle with the student.
  • Giving in to extra requests.
  • Adjusting your schedule or policies to accommodate the student.
  • Ignoring inappropriate behavior that has an impact on you or other students.

 

 

 

Related

Debra DeMeis
Debra DeMeis
Dean of Students More

 

 

Contact Us

Office of the Dean of Students
 


Green Hall 344
Wellesley College
106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02481

Linda Hilts
Executive Assistant
Tel: 781.283.2322
lhilts@wellesley.edu