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Negotiating What’s Possible: Advocating for Students

This is a guest blog by Erin O’Neill Armendarez, NCTE’s Higher Education Policy Analyst from New Mexico. 

Erin O'Neill Armendarez
Erin O’Neill Armendarez

Sometimes faculty are compelled to advocate for students beyond the classroom.  I recall two such instances, the first of which took place many years ago at a campus in rural Louisiana.  I was teaching in a conservative part of the state when a colleague shared with me his awareness of LGBT students who were very isolated and in some cases socially ostracized.  He wanted to help these students to charter a campus organization; another colleague and I volunteered to help.  We knew that campus administration wouldn’t particularly care for the idea; we also knew that it would be illegal to deny the charter if all standard requirements were met.

After a couple of months and some meetings, the club was chartered.  In October, there was tension when the students asked to use a centrally located campus bulletin board.  Faculty advisors assured the chancellor that featured posters of famous members of the LGBT community—scientists, politicians, celebrities—would not cause disruption or harm students in any way.  The bulletin board went up, and a campus dialogue began.

My more recent example of advocacy for students came about when I felt overwhelmed by the number of students on my current campus facing psychological and emotional trauma, depression, anxiety, addiction—students wrote about these problems and sometimes stopped by my office just to talk.  Unqualified to counsel, I could only listen. Finally, I brought the issue to the faculty assembly; we petitioned the campus president to hire a part-time counselor.  Initially, money wasn’t available, but we persisted, and the counselor was hired.

In a resource-limited environment, advocating for students may seem pointless.  But I believe we have to try.  Even when we fail to achieve our goals, we are acting on behalf of our students to demonstrate concern for them. And sometimes, our attempts are successful.

Erin O’Neill Armendarez teaches writing courses at New Mexico State University Alamogordo, a community college in southcentral New Mexico.