Monday, November 13, 2006

No guarantees

A young woman and her mom visited my office today to get some information about the college. They explained that the young woman would be enrolling as a new student for the spring semester and that she had recently withdrawn from another institution because she'd had a negative experience there.

I asked a vague question about the nature of the experience, giving them plenty of latitude to evade the question if I was treading on sensitive territory. But they offered an explanation freely. There had been two rapes on the campus, they explained, and shortly after that the young woman got frightened when she believed that someone was following her as she walked to her car.

"I called Campus Police," the mom recounted incredulously. "And they told me that they couldn't guarantee my daughter's safety." And with that, her daughter decided to withdraw.

I didn't ask, but I had to wonder: Did someone on our campus guarantee her daughter's safety? Would anyone here be bold enough - foolish enough - to make such an outrageous promise?

And what would make a parent believe that we could deliver on it?

What would make a parent believe that it was a reasonable question in the first place?

I ask for a lot from the professionals who work with Bud. I ask them to listen to my concerns and to respond appropriately. I ask them to think critically and creatively, to collaborate, and to work as hard as they can for him and with him. But I don't ask for guarantees.

In fact, I think if they offered guarantees I'd quietly pack my things and move on.

I worry about this young woman's upcoming transition to our college, and I wonder if, through an unreasonable set of expectations, she's already set herself - and us - up for failure. When we met today, she and her mom told me exactly what they needed from me. They outlined their expectations at length and in detail.

I listened. I affirmed. I clarified. I suggested.

But I didn't guarantee.

If this woman enrolls in our college in January, I'll follow her closely. If all goes well, we'll have four years together. And I hope that, at the end of those four years when I watch her walk across the stage in her cap and gown, we will have done our job as educators and I'll be watching a woman who is more confident, more secure, and more comfortable with uncertainty. Because as she crosses that metaphoric platform, she may be thinking that she's headed for a particular kind of career, a particular kind of family, a particular kind of future. And perhaps she will be.

But there are no guarantees.


kristina said...

There are, or are not, indeed---but the journey up to that platform (at whatever institution of learning) is well worth it. Especially under the aegis of a thoughtful guide.

Anonymous said...

The mom was probably more concerned about the attitude she received than the words about a gaurantee. If people sound unconcerned or bothered than why would you feel safe. Lets face it - if they had two rapes that should have been a clue to make an effort to secure their campus. A similar situation happened at my daughter's gradeschool and I was appalled also by the way they felt like it wasn't important or something for parents to get too concerned about. I think overall the idea of sexual assualt on women is considered a "normal" part of society and does not elicit enough outrage.

nicole said...

Hi! I just stumbled here via the randomizer. I've skipped through a few posts and am really interested. I'll be back!