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Vantage Point banner.jpgAlison Chandler, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Alison Chandler.jpg

Academic Advisors have a very distinct role as being the main point of contact for our students.  As a result, we are the ones that they come to in order to vent, to plead, to cry, and to beg.  I am sure we all have heard about the unfair professor, the important email that was never received, or the reasons why a class was failed.  After being presented with excuse after excuse, are we advisors too quick to conclude that students are guilty until proven innocent?

Before entering the world of advising, I worked in a very challenging role as a counselor for foster care children.  It was a position that was both heartbreaking and emotionally draining.  There I interacted with kids who were defiant, apathetic, unruly, and mentally unstable.  Many of those in their lives dismissed them as lost causes headed for a life of destruction.  My job was to take the time to dig a little deeper to see what was just beneath the surface.  What I found was that many of these children were really good kids who had been abused, neglected, abandoned, and subjected to more negativity than most adults could handle.

I recall a time when I had to attend a school board hearing, regarding a student who was accused of being a constant source of trouble and disruption for his class and teacher.  It had progressed to the point that he was on the verge of expulsion.  I quickly realized that this student, a young boy who was abandoned by his mother and bounced around from home to home for a large portion of his life, was in for an uphill battle.  The room was filled with intimidating suits and glaring eyes, all appearing ready to object to his every word.  I expected a clash of wills to ensue.  Surprisingly, this usually outspoken and discourteous student was silent and somber.  He was terrified.  I knew that he felt alone in this room and needed someone on his side.  I would be that be person for him.  I played his defense attorney to the best of my ability, and as a result of some compromise on both parties, which included a verbal apology to his teacher and class and continued counseling on his part, as well as more one-on-one time from his teacher, he was able to remain in school. So despite the behavioral problems of many of these children, I, as well as the other counselors, was there to support them, to help them overcome personal boundaries in order to become productive, responsible, and well-adjusted individuals, and to serve as their advocates.  As an advisor, my first instinct is to do the same.

I realize that there are situations when a student has failed to do his or her part.  Maybe he procrastinated or just plain forgot.  Possibly she deleted that email or did not attend class.  I also believe that there are times when a student has a legitimate case, and unfortunately, is not given the proper representation.  Perhaps the focus is not on what we as advisors can do to assist, but what we can do to point out to the student what he or she did wrong.

Advisors play such an essential role in a college student’s experience.  We are a teacher, a guide, a coach, a case manager, and an attorney all rolled up into one.  We are presented with cases, complaints, and offenses all the time. However, before we make our closing arguments, before we are ready to rule, I believe that we should first take the time to dig.

Alison Chandler
College of Education Advising Center
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
alison.chandler@unlv.edu

Cite this article using APA style as: Chandler, A. (2009, December). Representing our clients: Advisors as defense attorneys and prosecutors. Academic Advising Today, 32(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]

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