Knowing what to say or do to help a student going through a difficult time can be a challenge. Staff in the office of student assistance can offer guidance on a variety of issues ranging from a personal crisis, mental health issue, academic problem or something else. The staff tries to resolve the problem -- and refers students to the right people as needed -- while alleviating some of the burden of working through an issue alone.
"We can be a place to navigate students to appropriate resources across campus," said director of student assistance Kipp Van Dyke. "We are almost like a coach who can help students understand and get through different processes."
Signs of an issue
Faculty and staff have some of the most impactful relationships with students at the university. This can lead to students sharing problems that may extend beyond the classroom.
Not everyone with an issue will seek help, but there are actions that may suggest a larger issue including:
- Significant missed class time
- Change in mood
- Disruptive behavior
- Other students express concern
What to say
Van Dyke said communication is key to determining if help is needed. If a student appears to be having an issue, don't assume someone else will provide help, he said. Conversations can begin with questions like "Are you OK?" and "What have you done to address the situation?"
"You don't want to assume something is wrong. If you talk to them, they may have already reached out to student assistance or are getting the help they need," he said.
If a student needs assistance with a course, Van Dyke recommends faculty deal with those situations.
"What the student needs most is to have faculty help them in their course or explain their flexibility with an issue," Van Dyke said. "I think it speaks well for the faculty on campus that students want to build relationships with them."
If the issue goes beyond a faculty or staff member's control, listen, ask questions and help begin to find a solution.
Students can contact student assistance directly or someone can make the office aware of a potential issue through a referral.
Van Dyke recommends faculty and staff refer students through an electronic introduction after speaking to them. Sending an email to the student and letting them know that student assistance also is receiving it can help begin a conversation.
Student assistance, which has operated in this form since 2009, can be reached by calling 294-1020, email or through a link on its website. After a referral is received, the office reaches out to offer help.
"The referral link can be anonymous, but I feel the personal connection can be helpful. Otherwise, it can feel awkward to a student when we reach out to them," Van Dyke said. "The whole goal is for faculty and staff to help connect us to them in some way."
A few caveats
Student assistance can help with non-emergencies, but if a student's actions put faculty, staff or other students in danger, call ISU Police, 294-4428 or 911.
Van Dyke also noted when an issue involves sexual misconduct, it is important to let the student know as early as possible the conversation is not confidential, while still providing support. In these cases, confidentiality only extends to those not required by law to report, such as health service and counseling professionals or sexual assault advocates.