If these past couple weeks in survey have shown me something, it’s that I’m the adult now.
Even though eighteen was when I officially entered adulthood, there’s still a significant amount of leeway I receive due to being twenty years old. Others still consider me a kid; the word “college” just happens to be put in front of it. There are times that I admit that I still feel like a child in my mother’s shoes, especially when I waffle over career plans or commitments. Sometimes it’s the woman in me who says “I’m already twenty,” and sometimes it’s the girl that goes “I’m just twenty.”
But to the first-years, suddenly those two years and change that separate us become the difference between being one of them and one of the adults. Suddenly, I am the “authority figure,” the one who is expected to have the answers and to hold them accountable. This division was never really apparent to me during class or other interactions, but for some reason, I became aware of this continually shifting boundary this past month.
The first feeling came during scheduling week. Suddenly I was receiving multiple emails from students, asking for recommendations for GEs, what my opinion was on certain workloads, etc. One student asked about the process of changing her major to Health Sciences. I found myself spending a good hour trying to learn about her new choice, gathering resources to email her and explaining the steps to changing (from making an appointment with their advising office, from letting her know the requirements to become a pre-major to major to explaining that she would need to talk to Joe because that major was in a new college etc.) and what I would do in her situation. I spent a long time on these emails, not only because I wanted to be a good resource, but also because I remembered that, when I was a freshmen, I took what the peer mentors said as truth, the same way I trusted the information from my advisor.
Presenting my internship project was the next hurdle. I had centered this project on dialogue and recognizing and reacting to triggers, a topic that I hadn’t encountered in a survey class before. My original plan to create small group discussion had to change last minute when I found I lacked the handouts, so our discussions took place as a large class.
There’s a distinct difference between presenting something for a class, such as doing a skit or PowerPoint, and asking for their participation. You are now at the mercy of the students to interact and give you something to work off of. Silence, I learned, doesn’t mean disengaged. Even when the class was completely quiet, I could tell I had their attention from the nods, eye contact, and changes in facial expression. These nonverbal cues were a confidence booster, but I definitely gained a newfound appreciation for those students who have no fear of talking in class and giving their opinion. Their participation usually helped other students talk and comment off each other’s’ viewpoints. And, thankfully, the presentation did do what I wanted it to: spark discussion and dialogue. The other peer mentors and I, as well as our advisor, starting talking about the controversy of sensitivity training, bringing up questions like when is it too PC and discussing opinions on the statement, “some situations don’t have a right answer.” As class left, Sean and I ended having a conversation with another student about their biases against humanities students, business in particular. During the presentation, the student commented that he knows it’s wrong, but also knows that he’s guilty of it himself. As we left, he commented that he feels bad about it, but believes he’s right and it’s okay as long as he doesn’t verbally belittle anyone about it. Sean brought up that “that might actually be worse,” and we ended up discussing it as we went to our next classes. In the end, I consider the project a success, because it started deeper discussions about understanding our biases and the ideas of appropriate behavior.
The point that really drove home this feeling of “adulthood” was my second and last peer mentor event, which, ironically, was all about being a kid. For five hours on a Saturday morning, the students and I volunteered at the Buckeye Village Fall Festival, setting up and running crafts tables and activities. This event was a collaboration I organized between BV, MUNDO (a club I’d been in since freshman year) and KindCarts, a service initiative I started, and so, was very close to my heart. It was amazing to see the students have fun and de-stress, as well as to see them get enjoyment out of helping the younger kids paint, color and be safe. On the CABS ride home from the event, the students and I got to bond over the event, and talk about different topics like moving off-campus, service, applying for grants, and pre-med problems. With two hundred children running around with access to paint, scissors and glue, it was a while before I noticed that one student wasn’t actually participating. This student, who we will call Layla, was sitting on the couch playing with her phone, while the other students were interacting with the kids. After noticing this, I checked in on her periodically, and each time, she was on her phone or talking to a friend in the corner. I never saw her interact with the families or work the event.
I had no time to think about it during the event, but found myself troubled about it afterward when it came time to send her name to her advisor. On one hand, I didn’t feel like she fulfilled the assignment, either in the talking to the peer mentor or the participation in the event. On the other hand, during the event, I never went up to her and specifically told her to participate more, and due to the many duties, kids and students I was juggling, it’s possible that I merely looked over when she was taking a break, and she was working the event when I wasn’t looking. I was torn over if this was something that I should tell her advisor. I personally didn’t think it was respectful to the children or Buckeye Village, but, depending on the advisor’s opinion, it could have resulted in her not getting credit for the event.
As students, there is an implicit understanding that, in ambiguous situations, we cover for each other. We make sure the situation goes the way that benefits our follow student because, at the end of the day, we understand their experience with classes and work and clubs. This mentality stretches strongly to a class like this, where “it’s just survey.” There’s a mentality of being in one group, and professors in another, so you should stand with your group. Telling her advisor would be like crossing that group boundary and joining the adults/authority. I asked other peer mentors if I should let Layla’s advisor know and got mixed responses, following the same reasons above.
In the end, I did end up telling Layla’s advisor what I observed at the event, as well as my disclaimers of not seeing her all the time and not explicitly telling her to talk to the kids after the first explanation of the event. I had multiple reasons for deciding to let her advisor know. First of all, all the other students had great participation, from helping the kids to cleaning up, so her behavior wasn’t characteristic of all students. Secondly, there were multiple options for PM events, most of which didn’t involve volunteering, so if she had somewhere she needed to be, or didn’t want to do the event or service, she didn’t have to. The reason that held the most sway with me, however, was the fact that this was a service event. It wasn’t solely a program to have fun and craft (although we did that as well!), it was about making sure the children had the best time that they could. For some of the shyer kids, having someone to play with them, paint with them, or show them how to use the tacky glue can make their day. If something is just for your fun/education, the only person you’re truly affecting is yourself. But if you sign up to volunteer and then don’t, you start affecting the experience of others.
To me, the PM event situation highlights the see-saw feeling of being child and adult. Although I made the decision to let her advisor know, I don’t have the final responsibility of deciding whether or not Layla gets credit, a decision that I’m currently grateful to not have to make. And, although I felt more like an adult this month, as the end of survey comes along, I know I’ll tip back over to a kid as I start thinking about no longer seeing the new friends I made this semester due to Peer Mentors.