Values: Openness and Trust
By Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, Vice President for Student Life
In our culture shaping sessions and materials, we have emphasized the value of openness and trust in our relationships with colleagues. I’d like to extend the discussion to our interactions with students. In my role as vice president for student life, I have the privilege of seeing our students at their very best and worst, and all the points between. Whether I am congratulating them on a high honor, counseling them through a crisis, or chatting about campus life, I find that students respond positively to open, honest, authentic communication.
Just as our coworkers appreciate it when we share needed information, assume best intentions, and keep an open mind, students also react favorably and mirror the attitude we present to them. A trusting environment leads to constructive conversation, shared responsibility, and ultimately to achievement of goals. Of course, there is information that cannot be shared for good reasons (FERPA and HIPAA violations among them), but our first instinct should be to be open. Often, that means closing our mouth and opening our ears. Listening, really listening, is all that is needed in more cases than you would expect.
This applies to individuals, specific groups, and even to the student body as a whole. The more that students feel that we, the faculty and staff, are hearing their concerns, being honest, forthright, and considerate with them, the more effectively we can work together. It’s hardly surprising that positivity begets positivity, but openness does not always come naturally or easily, so here are a few points to consider:
- Am I presenting an attitude that invites students to approach me with questions and concerns?
- Do I respond in a timely manner to student inquiries?
- Do I listen for understanding, gather the information needed, and respond appropriately—whether that is simply “I hear you” or a referral to a resource for assistance?
- Is the information students need from my department kept up to date and easily accessible?
- Do my words and actions indicate that I think positively about our students and expect them to perform to a high standard?
That last point, I think, may be the most important one. When you make it clear that you respect students’ ability to weigh various factors and make good choices, you are rarely disappointed. When you set high expectations, you are likely to get good results. I see this in our students’ enthusiastic support of programs such as Buckeyethon ($222,518 raised for Nationwide Children’s Hospital this year) and BuckIServ (between-quarters trips to do community service), as well as the remarkable academic achievements showcased at the Denman and Hayes forums.
I also see it in less lofty arenas, such as our expectation that students will treat the facilities and furnishings of the new Ohio Union with care. Despite constant use, very little damage has occurred. It does not hurt that the staff speak respectfully, but firmly to those who appear to be on the verge of careless or harmful actions. Being open and trusting does not mean overlooking or excusing poor student behavior—in the classroom, in our recreation facilities, or in the off-campus neighborhoods. It does mean communicating clear expectations, sharing the information needed to make good decisions, responding to questions, being open to feedback, and assuming positive intent wherever possible.