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Links to my published articles online
List of Publications with Full Citations

Adolescent Diary Weblogs and the Unseen Audience

Conversations in the Blogosphere: An Analysis "from the Bottom Up". Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-38) Best Paper Nominee.

Weblogs as a bridging genre

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The Performativity of Naming: Adolescent Weblog Names as Metaphor

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Last Updated November 22, 2005.

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New books are added but reading status is rarely accurate.

February 01, 2006

When counseling should have a trained professional

Back when I was in Human Resources my hubby used to be concerned. I had death threats of course none were to serious, but all were taken seriously by myself and my employers. Of course he knew about the folks that come to a work place with a gun to right some wrong that has been "done to them." We've all seem this one the news, even one this week. Usually those folks shoot their boss and are on their way to HR when the snipers take them out or the reverse. Now that never happened to me or to anyone I know, but I did deal with folks with every variety of mental and emotional issue so the potential for violence was always there, and he knew it.

Because of that I don't think I will be pointing him to the article in The Chronicle by Harry Lancaster - Not a Counselor. Lancaster has written a case study of his interaction with a pathological liar, if you haven't met someone with this illness this is a fairly accurate story from my experience, that should give all of us pause as we interact with the broad spectrum of people we see on a daily basis.

For the record, mental and emotional issues are not limited to the student body. One of my first interactions with someone with pathological lying tendencies, if they were not a pathological liar they were very close to being one, was as an undergrad student dealing with a full professor. Talk about messed up power dynamics.

While I may not share it with hubby I do think this article is important reading for all of us in academia. This clip is from the conclusion but the case study is required reading to make all of the pieces fall into place, and maybe most of the cautionary tale.

At my small college, the administration gives us somewhat paradoxical advice: We should be open and receptive to students, willing to give them our time and attention. Yet we should refer students with problems to the counseling center, remembering that we can't diagnose problems or make the students go (or even make them call for an appointment). Those varying directives are difficult to balance.

In my case, when the student first came to me, I wrestled with what to do: She was legally an adult with the right to make her own decisions about her private life, yet she appeared to need help. She had said she didn't want to see a counselor on the campus -- in her words, "the counseling center doesn't know what it's doing" -- and I felt obliged to honor her request and her privacy.

Wanting to help, I kept listening. She seemed to need someone to talk to, and she trusted me. And I have to admit it: Being trusted is a good feeling.

But it was exactly that "good guy" nature that got me in trouble -- that's what she exploited. Many of my colleagues with whom I've shared this story have sympathized, for they, too, would want to be the good guy, the trusted ear, the one who helps save a hurt student. Some said they would have easily believed her protest about the counseling center, for there is that lingering "us-them" relationship between academics and student- life professionals.

I have decided I cannot play the role of informal counselor again: I will direct students immediately to the counseling center, not in judgment but because you need the best person for the job. You call a plumber to fix a broken pipe, right? Let me help you write an essay, not resolve your personal issues.

If only it were that easy with every case. Not every student can be waved off to the counseling center. My fellow faculty members have talked of stalkers and identity thieves who go after professors as easily as they go after students. One colleague even had a voodoo "death curse" put on her some years ago by an angry student -- obviously ineffective (at least so far) but still disturbing.

The matter becomes even darker when I consider that at some future point on our quiet campus, things could turn deadly. I already know tangentially of several episodes in which students became confrontational with professors nearly to the point of violence. Students also have threatened each other. There may be a time when a violent, unstable student will have a gun.

Mandy merely deceived me. What should I do if a student becomes violent? If a student hits me, will I be fired if I hit back in self-defense? If a student brings a gun into my class, am I expected to sacrifice myself for my other students, or can I run and hide and thereby save my children from the loss of a parent? Am I liable if I give the bad (yet deserved) grade that sets off a sniper? Yes, those questions are ultimately all about me -- but you know, I have a vested interest in me.

From my perspective, there are far more questions than answers. I sure would like some answers as I move further and further into this unknown territory.

I also wonder/worry about how I can effectively interact with students who are using drugs and alcohol detrimentally. I've had several students who clearly were using something that altered their personalities markedly from one interaction to another. One student would swing from docile to vengeful, thankfully all via email, between each interaction. In this case they eventually did poorly in my class and probably others as well, but is "flunking out" the best we can offer these people? I'm sorry but I'm not comfortable with that at all. It seems to me that some sort of intervention process should be we can't force them into treatment but somehow we (being the college/university) should be able to present them with information and options to resolve the problem. No I'm not a pie-eyed optimist I know many substance abusers would say "no thanks" to the offer but if you helped one wouldn't it be worth it? Something to think about.

Posted by prolurkr at February 1, 2006 09:50 AM

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