Mixed messages are supposed to be bad, but I have cultivated the skills of delivering consistently mixed message to freshmen as a way of communicating the ARC policy for interacting with first year students. For example, I tell students: “Bellarmine is not a sink of swim university; we will be with you every step of the way, but we expect you to learn throughout the first year to be pro-active and work to resolve your own problems. “ Or I might give the message “It’s ok if you make a mistake, but you have to be willing to make some changes and adopt new strategies if you want to turn things around.”
I want freshmen to know two opposing realities: they’re in charge of their own lives, of their academic success of lack of it, but that we never send freshmen out to the end of the limb to dangle there. We in the ARC and other offices of the university want to point the way, offer the resources, and make suggestions that will help students learn to solve their own problems.
One policy concept always in my mind is that I won’t make calls for students unless they’re in a crisis. I will, however, take the time to discuss with freshman whom they should see about a certain problem, what their best argument might be. I will let them rehearse or sometimes cry.
I love the role of advisor—I am not a friend (they have plenty of those); I am not a counselor (don’t have the psychological training for that); I try to be a mentor and advisor to freshmen . I try to say as little as possible and remain as non-judgmental as possible. The rewards of listening and coaching with mixed messages has provided a great source of fulfillment.
At every graduation I get to watch some of those students initially needed a little direction along the way walk across the stage, shake the president’s hand, and become a Bellarmine alum.