Came Close to "That Line"

Let me say first, that I hold a tremendous level of pride in my relationship building skills with students. I think that I’ve learned how I like to be in the office, how to relate with students in a collegial manner, but at the same time have avoided gray areas of what’s “right”, “ethical” or “appropriate.”

However, I’m running into a question that I haven’t really had to deal with before: what should my relationship with my students look like after I no longer supervise them?

I’m home this weekend for the first time since I left, to tie up a few clerical loose ends in my life. I went to the mall to celebrate being done with my old apartment complex, and I saw one of my students there. I asked her how she was, and she told me about life at work, and a few other things- standard sorts of things that would come up in our one-on-ones.

But then she told me information, gossip I suppose, that was uncomfortable for me to hear. Aside from how that information affects me personally, it was unsettling to hear because it made me feel that I had cultivated a relationship with her that made her think such talk was okay.

This is as much of a recount of my day as it is a call for advice, so I’ll throw this one to committee: how do you keep up with students after you no longer advise them? What does that relationship look like? What do you feel it should look like? What’s off limits?

5 thoughts on “Came Close to "That Line"

  1. I have no clue – but I want to respond because I'm currently in the process of figuring out how I want my relationship with students to be…It's so hard. Every day I have a conversation and when I come home I think about the things that I should have said instead of the things that I did say.In fact, some random student text me this weekend asking me if he thought he could borrow some tools from the leader of a service project that we did on Friday. How did he get my number? And why does he think it's appropriate to text me to try to facilitate that?I think I talk about a lot of things with students that you probably don't talk to students about (or at least, this post makes me think that)… so I'm not sure what to tell you. I think you should maintain the whole role model thing – whatever that is to you personally. Don't let them see you being someone that you don't want them talking about. But being authentically you, no matter who you're around is important as well.Doesn't help – but those are my thoughts.

  2. First, please don't feel anything you've said or done has cultivated the response you received. I think it's a generational shift. In a popular culture where nothing is private or sacred, and where boundaries are practically non-existent, our students feel that they can and should have access to all areas of life, and you should have access to all areas of theirs. It's best in situations like this to correct her on this front (gently explain that the gossip makes you uncomfortable and isn't something you want to participate in.)As far as going forward is concerned, establish those boundaries at the outset of the relationship. Be very clear in how you feel about certain topics, that it's okay to ask for assistance seeking solutions but that venting to spew vitriol and gossiping just to have something to talk about isn't okay both inside and outside of the professional relationship. If you share enough of yourself to show them that it is a boundary for you, they will respect it. But until you do, they won't know it exists and will go there with you, not out of disrespect, just out of lack of knowledge.

  3. Assuming they're no longer students at the university, I think there are no longer rules on the relationship. If you want to never speak to them again, or marry them or anything in between, it's completely up to you.If they are students, I'd say the relationship is the same as if they were your advisee. Dont' overstep the boundaries of your professional relationship, don't walk outside of your expertise, and for the love of all that's holy, don't be their BFF.

  4. I agree with Jeff about the fact that once your students have graduated or you've left that school or you are otherwise not working at the same institution they are students at, it's whatever you like. I'm now friends with a former RA of mine that decided to go into the field. Other former staff/students I sometimes keep in touch with via email or facebook, but because I don't typically have close relationships/friendships with my students at work, I then don't tend to have super close relationships with them post-working relationship.I think the things that students expect from supervisors have changed in the 10 years i've been in the field… when i started there was no fb, twitter, etc… barely anyone texted, and a lot of people were just getting cell phones. if my students needed me, they had to call or come to my office. or email. no instant contact. thus it was very easy to separate work and personal lives and not get intertwined.now with the high level of connection our students have with everyone through technology, i can see the difficulty in setting boundaries, especially if you've only been in the field a few years and have "grown up" with technology like fb, twitter, etc… in your work-life. (when i was in college no one had cell phones and email was an awesome new thing). There will naturally be students you connect with in a slightly different way than supervisor or advisor, and think of those students as an opportunity to practice your boundaries. You can mentor them or have slightly longer conversations, but you're not there to be their friend or hangout buddy. You're there to model what it means to be a professional because eventually they will have a job or other role that requires them to exhibit that behavior. And if they see you as their BFF then when they get out into the "real world" or wherever, they will have a distorted view of supervisor/supervisee or advisor/advisee relationships.Ok. more than $.02

  5. Ditto what Jeff said about "After they are gone." You get to set whatever boundaries you want with your former students. No it is important to note that technology is cause us to think about this a lot more and there are no hard rules yet, except that there are no rules once they are no longer your students.

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