Hello again. In a previous video, we set the stage for a discussion about student confidentiality. Here, we would like to reflect with you on the role a mentor fulfils within an organisation and on a personal level with his or her students. We are aware of the examples we introduced, both the situation of the students who might be depressed and the students felt treated unfairly, obviously won’t happen to all mentors. However, we feel that it’s worth your while to think about the situations and reflect on the role as mentor so you might be better for unexpected situations.
Of course, it is very beneficial for first-year students to be able to connect to a senior student who has ample experience studying, and who at the same time still can relate to situations first-year students face. A mentor is the most often go-to person when students deal with personal issues, in case of unexpected events, or even in the aftermath of a calamity when seeking aftercare. However, what makes the task of mentor a difficult one in general is that the role of a mentor is ambiguous. As a mentor, you have to simultaneously connect to the student on a personal level and relate to the organisational structure of the institution on a professional level.
In both examples, first-year students told the mentor about the worries they have related to the study. Students sharing is a good sign, in any case, that a mentor made a good connection. However, not knowing about responsibility and protocol when confronted with a personal issue could result in uncomfortable situations, or even breaking confidentiality or conflict. Do you know what protocols are in place at your organisation when you, as a mentor, are entrusted with an issue such as depression, for example? It might very well be that the confidentiality between mentor and student is absolute. In this case, you’d better inform the student to also talk to the study advisor or counsellor.
Alternatively, sometimes you have to inform the study advisor about serious issues regarding students since they can assess these problems much better, and as a student, you might not always have a proper training to help the student to begin with. So knowing who is who, which protocols are in place, and where your responsibilities as a mentor lie within an organisation, is crucial in understanding your role as a mentor, and knowing the boundaries of your responsibility. Also, having communicated all this to your group of first-year students at the start of the year can help you deal with such situations later on.
In the first example, when a student tells you he might suffer from a depression, having communicated clearly on how you have to deal with confidentiality helps resolve the situation. For instance, when protocols insist you have to inform a study advisor about any serious medical conditions you suspect with your students, you can inform the student you have to follow this procedure without being doubtful or guilty. Furthermore, based on you managing expectations about your role and responsibility, the student may probably have informed you about this anyway, or had hoped you would help him break the news to the study advisor to get the needed support.
Besides managing expectations about procedures, we also advise reflecting on the leadership style you have or prefer within the group you mentor. As we have experienced personally, some roles come naturally. But most often, you will only realise the expectations you have set surrounding your role when an unexpected situation arises. For instance, if you naturally take up the role of an expert when advising, which subject would you want to refrain from advising about? And if you think that you feel most comfortable in an informal role, how do you avoid befriending your students in a way you feel is unprofessional?
We can illustrate this with the second example, in which one of the first-year students in your group tells you about the problems she has with a teacher. Obviously she expected something from you by telling you about her issue. If you have been an experienced expert to your students from the start, she might expect you to tell her what to do– or if you felt comfortable to act as a fellow student in an informal manner, she might expect she can share her story with you like she would with her friends. This could be a problem because it is not your responsibility to mediate conflict, nor to assess if the student is right. Remember we talked about task distribution in week one?
Who in your organisation is responsible for handling student complaints? Again, knowing who is who helps you deal with such situations– but also, having reflected on your role as a mentor might prevent you from breaking the protocol, or at least raising the wrong expectations. Therefore, we advise all upcoming mentors to be informed about all protocols surrounding confidentiality to properly manage expectations, and to reflect on what role they want to take up as a mentor.