One of the biggest questions and concerns I had before coming to grad school was this “line” between being personal and professional, especially in regards to student / GA relationships. One reason I was so concerned was because I was told very various perceptions, and a majority of those opinions were very passionate. So who was right? What was I supposed to do?
“You absolutely cannot be friends with your students. Whether it is on Facebook or in real life, that is the worse thing you can do.”
“Sure, go ahead and be Facebook friends! You’re a human too, so why act like you’re not? People make it a bigger deal than it really is.”
I’m not kidding- it felt like every person I talked to had a different view on the spectrum from “this is the worse thing you could do as an #SAgrad” to “do whatever you want.” So is there a right answer? No. But do I have my own opinion? Yes I do!
Student / Graduate Advisor relationships, where is the line? Here are my thoughts:
The line moves depending on your position.
While this seems like a very obvious and basic view, I think a lot of people honestly forget this. Yes, my line in student programming will be a lot different than a GA who works in student conduct. I am advising my students, which looks differently than if I were supervising them. Not to mention, this line is different based on institutional culture and office environment, so it may be different at a public vs. private institutions or large vs. small institution. What works for me in my current position with my current students in programming may not work at my first full-time position and that programming board. So please don’t tell me that what I am doing is wrong, unless you’re my supervisor. Then you can tell me. Actually, please tell me. (Side note: I had this conversation with my supervisor during my first week as a GA, and modeled my behavior and actions after her. 10/10 recommend having this conversation.)
The line is pushed back further if you are using it for professional purposes.
When I talk about being Facebook friends with my students, I am used to getting questionable looks from colleagues or other grads. But here is the deal– I need Facebook to communicate with my students and with my organization. We have a Facebook group for all the members of my student programming board, and we have another Facebook group with the Executive Board. This is the primary way we communicate and send reminders. (Disclaimer: I DO send emails a LOT. But sometimes you need to meet students where they are at.) Sometimes I need quick answers from my students so I message them on Facebook, therefore we need to be friends or else it goes to that mysterious “other” folder. Sometimes I need to call or text my students or they need to call or text me (usually the “are you in the office?” text), so I have all my student’s cell phone numbers. However, contacting my students for professional reasons (why are you late? do you need help at the event? what time will you be here?) is a lot different than texting for personal reasons. Don’t get me wrong, I have texted some students “get well soon!” when they miss an event due to sickness, and some of my students will text me to share a GIF or congratulate me on a summer internship or ask if I want Starbucks (they know me so well…). However, I would never text a student to see “what’s up” like I would my friend. That’s personal. There’s your line.
You can still be appropriate while crossing the line, or be inappropriate without crossing the line.
So honestly, a concept of “the line” doesn’t matter as much as your actions do. The way you talk and interact with students matters more than a “title” of being friends or Facebook friends.
You can be appropriate while crossing the line. Example– This one is usually speculation, but those moments where you think “that’s just weird.” Like when a GA and student have unscheduled 1:1s and go off to different locations or have intimate conversations behind closed doors… There are plenty of conversations you can have with students that cross the line but are still appropriate. As long as you’re not doing something “wrong” it can be appropriate but could cross the line. If you’re in a more strict position, even texting a student can be appropriate but crossing the line in your position. Or if you text them at an unreasonably late hour. Please don’t do that.
You can be inappropriate without crossing the line. Example– If you are Facebook friends with your students, okay. But should you really be posting that photo of you day drinking at the pool and doing shots with your friends in your bathing suit? Probably not…. Inappropriate? Sort of when you come in with that Trenta coffee Monday morning and your students know why. Crossing the line? No, because being Facebook friends can be okay.
Don’t feel like you have to support students yourself. Use your on-campus resources.
I’ve always been the “fixer” or the “mom” of the group– I want to take care of everyone and solve all their problems. While it’s been great and helpful in some environments (like when I was New Member Mom for my sorority), I have realized that I am far from being able to solve all problems for my students. I think sometimes the student/GA relationship can be blurry because a GA wants to be the saving grace support system and help with everything. But
sometimes most of the time, we aren’t able to help them. I don’t always mean that appropriate/inappropriate relationships in the sense of intimate relationships, but sometimes appropriate/inappropriate relationships in terms of the role we serve for our students.
When a student comes to me with life struggles, do I know how to accurately connect them to the counseling and wellness center? If I am concerned about a student, do I know how to refer them to U Matter, We Care (http://www.umatter.ufl.edu) so the Care Team can reach out? If I try to counsel them myself, that could be inappropriate because I’m in grad school for student affairs, not counseling. That’s not my job, so it’s inappropriate to pretend like it is. But it is my job to know resources and how to support a student and provide these connections on campus.
So back to the golden question: Can you cross the line if there isn’t one?
quote of the day: “June’s over? Julying!”
(Okay, it’s a bad pun and not a quote, but it made me giggle too much to not share!)