I came across an article this week that caught my eye. In particular, the headline brought a tinge of pain to the pit of my stomach.
The term intrusive advising sounds and feels so heavy-handed, and in my opinion, a blatant example of how we actually injure (disempower) and insult people, all under the guise of “helping” them.
Intrusive is, well, intrusive. Intrusiveness communicates the patriarchal sentiment: “I know better than you”, and is a form of institutional and inter-personal bullying.
My daughter, who is a college junior, brought up the point to me recently, when she received several unsolicited emails from her advisor. She has a complicated medical condition and therefore experiences challenges from time to time. She was taken aback when her advisor expressed his “deep concern” that she had received a C, rather than an A, on a biology course. He even suggested she change her major!
In his desire to ensure “academic retention and graduation rates”, he essentially insulted and infuriated my daughter– and unfortunately, she is now less likely to ever seek council from him.
As someone who has spent a great deal of time in the helping professions, it is clear how this happens and the mentality that enables it. I’ve been guilty of this myself, so have learned the hard way that over-helping is actually not helpful at all. It is intrusive at best, and abusive at worst.
I’ve also been on the receiving end of well-meaning individuals trying to “help me”, but who never stopped to ask my permission or consent. They honestly “thought” they were helping. And therein lies the flaw; the egoic “thinking” and mentality that we somehow know better about someone’s life, work, life ambitions, studies, art, relationships, fill-in-the-blank, than they themselves do. Arrogant? Ignorant? Yes.
What can we do instead to support student success? For starters, I suggest abandoning the term (well, unless universities do in fact wish to be “intrusive”).
Language matters. Respect matters, too. If we want to help students and truly assist in facilitating the perilous journey of higher education, then we must approach it from this space. The terms partnership advising or collaborative advising express a professional inter-dependence, versus a one-sided and therefore pathological dynamic that requires an “intruder”.
One of the best and most coherent voices to ever express the importance of respecting those you wish to help, comes from Ernesto Sirolli, who in his 2012 TEDTalk inspired and implored to those who wish to help others to “shut up and listen!”