How do students find sympathetic professors to talk to? Oftentimes students hear about them through the grapevine, resulting in some professors counseling students who may not even be enrolled in the college in which they teach. Sometimes courses are catalysts. College of Nursing professor Bobbie Perdue teaches a course on vulnerable families that addresses poverty issues. As a result, students have approached her to talk about their own problems with food stamps or welfare. Champagne says female students often come to her because they took her women's studies course, or someone they know did.
Some professors also attract a certain kind of student. International students, for instance, often ask advice of engineering professor Carlos Hartmann, who chairs the electrical engineering and computer science department in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science. Hartmann is from Brazil and understands what it is like to adjust to living in a new country. Students with disabilities also seek him out because of his experience raising a daughter with hearing impairments. Students of color often go to Perdue, who is African American, for advice about racism they may encounter. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students come to see Champagne because she speaks publicly about issues surrounding homosexuality. She reports that in the days after she gives a speech, her office hours fill up with students who want advice on how to deal with homophobia. Because she has had training as a rape-victim advocate, both women and men visit her to talk about assault-related problems.
Bonzi's special constituency is student athletes. She has no official connection with athletics, but does have "a special place in my heart for the tremendous amount of effort they put in," says Bonzi, who received the 1998 Outstanding Teacher Award presented by the University, the SU Alumni Association, and the Office of Alumni Relations. "They work very hard and get great accolades on the athletic field. They also work very hardbut usually don't get great accoladesin the classroom."
"I love Professor Bonzi to death," says Dan Karlsson '00, an information studies major and swim team member. "Whenever I have had questions or problems, she has taken the time to help me out. She's also funny."
Faculty members' attitudes have a lot to do with whether students feel comfortable approaching them with non-academic problems. Korman says it's important to be available not just physically, but emotionally. Hartmann says students can sense faculty members' attitudes: "When you care, students relate better to you," he says.
While professors usually feel competent to deal with academic counseling, they may be uncertain when it comes to more personal matters. Not so for School of Social Work faculty members. There, as Professor William McPeak G'65, G'75 points out, all professors have training as counselors. When a student comes in with a problem, there likely is a department specialist who can help. "The social work faculty probably feel a greater need for assistance with the academic part of counseling," McPeak says.
Because social work faculty members have so much expertise in addressing life issues, they give monthly talks in residence halls on such topics as relationships, dealing with divorced parents, racial issues, and sexually transmitted diseases. McPeak says these talks might increase the number of non-social work students coming to social work professors for help with personal problems.
Professors in other schools and colleges may not be as comfortable deciding whether a student's problem demands expertise beyond their abilities and training. Cederquist gives a few guidelines for making that determination: "If they're talking about suicide, or harming themselves or someone else, get them to Health Services now," he says. "If a student is depressed and doesn't get better after talking to a professor, it's time to say, 'Maybe you need more than I can offer.'"
Faculty members also admit that earning a doctorate in the history of the Civil War or mechanical engineering does not prepare them for personal advising and the emotional burden it carries. Or, as Champagne puts it, "This is not the army most of us signed up for." She was trained to believe that her primary allegiance should be to her discipline. But she has since found that her greater loyalty lies with the students she teaches and advises.
"I knew perfectly well that advising was going to be a small but important part of what I would do as a professor," Bonzi says, "but I didn't know I would do so much personal advising."