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Ashley McCann, Opinions Editor
In her article for USA Today, Kasey Varner delineates four ways to maintain professional relationships with professors. Varner states students should visit during their professors’ office hours to discuss assignments, get involved in extracurricular activities to increase exposure to professors and professional mentors, consult professors on career advice and to keep in touch throughout their collegiate careers.
While these suggestions are adequate starting points, they do little to address the complexities of human interaction, especially when those involved are of different social statuses. Relationships between professors and students are relationships with unequal power and influence. Many relationships people experience throughout their lives will be this way, for example, the relationships people have with their bosses once they enter their career field. It is important for students and professors alike to learn how to develop healthy relationships with one another.
However, that is an easy thing to say and a difficult thing to do. Learning how to establish a relationship that maintains professionalism and also develops a comfort level that will enhance learning and networking is challenging.
In the beginning of any relationship, the interaction and correspondence should be as professional as possible with distinct boundaries. As two individuals get to know one another, a high level of professionalism should be maintained, but the boundaries may become a little more fluid as the relationship develops. It is important to be respectful, responsive and professional despite the length of the relationship.
Both individuals should strive to maintain healthy boundaries with open lines of conversation.
For those who spend time with their professors during extracurricular activities or social events, additional difficulty may arise.
Maintaining a professional student – professor relationship while engaging in activities that are not typical of that dyad must always be approached with honesty and respect. If the relationship becomes conflict-ridden, each member should feel comfortable enough to address any issues; however, both sides can experience stress when attempting to tackle potential concerns. Students may not want to confront a professor because they worry it could affect their grades or hurt their reputation, professors may not want to confront students because they might worry about offending them or discouraging their progress in a class or activity.
While situations and relationships may differ, it is important that each member maintains boundaries, works to establish healthy communication and make every effort to address potential issues in healthy, honest ways. Our collegiate community here at Lewis is relatively small compared to most universities in our area. With a smaller academic population, it is important that we all work together to build healthy, positive relationships.