The Great Debate

I read an article this morning on Social Media that I found on the SACollective. It was talking about Student Affairs Professionals and the issue of whether or not to follow and/or friend students.


Now, I’ve been having this debate for years with myself and colleagues, so I’m quite familiar with both sides’ pros and cons. Some of the pros that are often brought up include: meeting students where they are at, exampling appropriate social media practices, and using the platforms as team building/leadership training modules. Some of the cons brought up include: graying the line between personal and professional, getting into awkward situations with students, and blurring the boundaries of the student and staff relationship.

But the key thing to understand and remember is that the decision is a personal decision for the professional. NEITHER is right or wrong and BOTH have validity in practicing as a Student Affairs Professional.

I retweeted the article and pretty soon I got a couple responses about it. They were pretty much split down the middle, half agreed while the other half did not. But as I was tweeting a colleague, on the pros and cons and how it has become a divisive issue in Student Affairs, I came to see the true reason why it’s become such a divisive issue. It’s not the fact that one #SAPro is open to friending a student while another is not or the potential for stepping over a professional line (because in Student Affairs, it’s our job to walk the line in most of our cases); it’s that one or both individuals or sides don’t understand why each has made that decision and therefore do not respect the other for making the personal/professional decision that they did.

This was such a profound observation I had to take a moment to reflect on it. It’s VERY true. In the midst of claiming professional practices/boundaries and proper social media usage we’ve forgotten to respect the decision of each other on how we handle our individual platforms and identities. We “lose respect” for those who friend students, or we state that people who don’t connect are “out of touch” with students. However, in the myriad of multiple practices of social media, why don’t we take the perspective that when you put all of us together, say in an office or department with these various degrees of connecting with our students, we are actually COLLECTIVELY providing services and support via multiple means and platforms and therefore providing an even more personal and individual experience for our students?

Now this can be a very broad and generalized perspective, but it seems to sum up my observations of late on the divide that’s being created. We seem to be coming to a tipping point in our social media philosophies and practices, an Either/Or type of situation. We will either begin to be more open and understanding of each other’s personal choices in how we each respectively handle social media with our students or we will continue down a road where eventually we will be a “House Divided” and it will begin to effect the support and services we provide to our students.

There is no perfect way to connect with students, and there is no right or wrong way on how we handle our social media. There can be right or wrong actions we do on the platforms however, and perhaps that is where we should have some conversation, but not necessarily whether or not we should connect with our students.

Just some food for thought, and to keep this post short, I’ll continue my thoughts on  a later post next week 🙂

In the mean time to my SA friend or students interested in the field,  join the conversation!:

Courtesy of SACollective
Courtesy of SACollective

Shout out to @AdamZLeftin and @jakegoldblum1 for the great conversation and article!

Until next time

Peace, Love and Pandas!

Published by Brian

I am currently the Assistant Director of Student Life for Registered Student Organizations and Late-Night Programming at Michigan State University. After earning my B.A. from the University of Michigan-Flint, I entered the Student Affairs profession. After a few years in the field, I returned to school and earned my M.A. in Educational Leadership-Higher Education Student Affairs from Eastern Michigan University. In my spare time I blog about my thoughts and musings on current issues in higher education, student affairs, digital worlds, identity development and general life inspirations and observations. I also volunteer a lot for my fraternity and multiple regional and national professional associations.

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