Op-Ed: For Struggling Students, Faculty Can Be a Friend at the Front of the Room

Faculty members already play a significant role in how college students feel about their work and themselves. A trio of engineering deans is arguing they also can play a key role in supporting a generation of students struggling with mental health.

Their argument, made in a new opinion piece published by Inside Higher Ed Dec. 2, is that students feeling anxious or overwhelmed have a friend at the front of the classroom who can help.

Led by Georgia Tech College of Engineering Dean Steven McLaughlin, the deans propose a series of tools and training to help equip faculty members to get involved when they see a student at risk.

“As deans and professors of engineering, we’ve personally experienced the distinct vantage point of faculty members,” McLaughlin wrote alongside Alex Gallimore from the University of Michigan and Robert Braun from the University of Colorado. “We see the demeanor of students, week in and week out. We’re in an exceptional position to spot rising absenteeism or declining performance, to recognize key signs that a student is struggling or that something isn’t quite right.”

The deans suggest colleges can engage faculty with specific programs such as QPR [Question. Persuade. Refer.]; mentoring for new faculty; ongoing student mental health training for faculty of all levels; and toolkits that include campus resources, tips for talking about suicide in the classroom, and sample statements for course syllabi.

“Intervening doesn’t come easily,” Braun, Gallimore, and McLaughlin wrote. “But here’s the reality: The classroom is the one place where every student shows up, and it might well be the place where we can turn the tide of mental health on campus.”

Read the entire op-ed at Inside Higher Ed.

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