Sharing tips on supporting students
Advising conference focuses on emotional, academic issuesfacing today’s college student

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs

04 April 2001 | While there are 168 hours in a week, most students spend 12 to 15 of them in a classroom. What happens outside of those hours has a profound impact on a student’s academic success.

To best support students, Berkeley’s student affairs officers and academic advisers need to understand the pressures students face from the outside world, as well as on campus.

This dual role was one of many issues discussed at the 10th annual advising conference, held last week at Clark Kerr Campus.

Participants learned about campus services that are available to support students — both in and out of the classroom — with panels on such topics as diversity, tutoring and technology, and the emotional, physical and mental stresses students face.

“To be an effective adviser, the responsibility falls on me to familiarize myself with what is available,” said participant Monica Lin, an adviser for the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. “Being able to network, offer feedback and collect ideas and strategies was extremely valuable.”

At one workshop, campus social workers provided information on understanding and responding to students who have suffered trauma or violence.

For example, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual assault, relationship violence and eating disorders may seem like separate issues, the panelists said, but these problems frequently overlap.

Victims of rape or brutality often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. Others are sexually assaulted after drinking too much. And many bulimic women have suffered from abuse at some point in their lives.

“It is important to understand the impact these traumas can have on a student,” said Paula Flamm, manager of social services for University Health Services. “Some will let their school work slip as a result, while others cling to their academics and let the rest of their life fall apart.”

“You don’t have to be a social service expert to intervene on behalf of a troubled student,” panelist and counselor Aaron Cohen told advisers. “The best thing you can do is tell them you’re concerned and refer them to Tang. They may deny they have a problem, but at least you’ve put it on their radar screen.”

A student’s emotional and mental stress can become even more pronounced when living in densely populated residential housing, said members of a panel on student behavior in the residence halls. Other housing issues revolve around conflict resolution. Many younger students — raised in the high-tech age — lack the social skills to deal with controversy, said Belinda Cortez, a resident director.

“These students will use e-mail, instant messaging or Post-it notes to communicate with someone they’re having a problem with, even if that person lives just a few doors down the hall,” said Cortez.

The Office of Student Research showed participants how the demographic data it collects can help departments better understand the kinds of students they are assisting.

The office can create customized reports on gender, ethnicity, academic majors and graduation rates, for example, to help advisers make decisions on the kinds of programs or services they offer, the panelists said.

E-grading, undergraduate scholarships for targeted students and creating a better academic experience for students with learning disabilities were also discussed at the conference.

“It is an empowering experience to meet so many enthusiastic and eager people who are committed to the continual improvement of student services and advising,” said Kati Markowitz, a student affairs officer in the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. “The energy created by the conference infuses participants and emboldens us to pursue new ideas and challenges.”


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