The hardest challenge I’ve faced: separating emotion from my job

I am a caring person. I love to make people feel good. I like to do things for others that will boost them up and make them feel happy. So when it comes to Student Affairs…that part of me has cringed while facing some difficult situations with students who are facing reprimands and sanctions.

I know, I know. You can’t make everyone happy. It’s physically impossible. I understand that. But tell me that your own heartstrings haven’t been pulled when you have a crying student in your office…right. That’s what I thought. My problem is that I just want to help students so much that when I’m in the moment, I’m thinking Well, everyone deserves a second chance, right?

I’ve discovered that second chances, while good for some people, are sometimes impossible to give depending on the situation…and that may be even better for the student in the long run.

I first discovered I had trouble separating my emotions when I became a Resident Assistant. I had a floor with a lot of roommate issues…and I was getting emotionally involved in these conflicts that had absolutely nothing to do with me. It was draining and exhausting, and doing roommate mediations became harder because I empathized with both roommates. It was difficult to come to a solution. I realized how apt I was to do that, and knew it needed to stop. I could and should empathize with students, sure, but not so much that I was agreeing with one roommate and then agreeing with another roommate when they spoke with me. It had nothing to do with me, so why was I getting so worked up? That’s when I realized I needed to leave emotion out of it, and if I really wanted to help my students I would need to become an impartial party and help foster the discussion between them.

Now, as a supervisor for Resident Assistants, I’ve found myself having to do the same thing. As we all know, sometimes people make mistakes, including RAs. Sometimes those mistakes require job action. For me, it’s really hard when an otherwise really good RA messes up, because they say It was a one time thing. I swear I’ve learned my lesson. I’ll never do it again. Well…that’s great. But one thing that RAs fail to recognize is that if we as supervisors let those things go…it sends a message to the other staff members. This person made a huge mistake and violated their contract, but they’re allowed to be on staff. If I was on that staff, I’d start thinking maybe I could get away with something of my own, or that the policies were not valued by my supervisor. The thing about policies is they’re there for a reason. Even though the RA may lose their job for one mistake, one mess up…there could be other consequences as a result of that mistake, and often times RAs don’t see that.

Sometimes it’s still really hard for me to “discipline” students and staff members. The part of me that is concerned about making others happy fights me tooth and nail. But in the end, sometimes it works out better for students and staff. They could learn a hard lesson that they never would have learned otherwise. Sometimes, as they say, you have to go through hard stuff to get to the good stuff. It is now my job as a supervisor and a higher educational professional to think about all parts of the situation and recognize what’s best for all parties involved…not just the sobbing student in front of me.


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