Universities must value relationships with their students

When I graduate this year, I hope I leave university as a valuable community member and as a good friend to those around me.

Since coming to university, I’ve rarely felt being a decent human being has mattered in my academic pursuits. I’m only a series of numbers—I feel like my personhood has no value to this institution.

Professors shouldn’t just be messengers from the academic community—they have a responsibility to build relationships with their students and guide their learning.

In high school, I had a great physics teacher who taught me a lot about hard work.

When I got stuck on a problem, I would come to his desk where he would look at my notebook, grimace, and comically exclaim, “Yikes!” He took the time to help me work through my mistakes because he believed in me and cared about my success.

I spent hours deliberating over physics problems after school, hoping he wouldn’t look at my final test and say “yikes” again.

Importantly, my hustling wasn’t motivated by personal development. I wanted to prove I could work through challenges and show my teacher he was right for believing in me.

This accountability fostered a genuine friendship with my teacher. I wasn’t defined by grades in a computer—I was a smart, funny, resilient, and reliable person.

I don’t take physics anymore, but my work ethic and resilience have endured beyond that class. I learned that working hard is about being a valuable, reliable community member and coming through for the people who care about me.

When I came to university, it was a shock to suddenly have no teachers looking out for me.

In high school, I was told professors weren’t going to hold my hand and nag me about deadlines. But I didn’t need anyone to hold my hand—I just needed someone to care about me.

Our university years are the most formative years of our life. They establish who we’ll be professionally, but they also inform us of who we are as people.

In my fourth year, I’ve built relationships with my professors by working in labs and completing my thesis. Some of the best work I’ve done in university was possible because of the support received from these professors.

I’m happy I finally had the chance to have these relationships in my fourth year, but I would’ve benefited a lot both personally and academically from having this support earlier.

Universities neglect relationships with their students, thinking that having one teacher for hundreds of students is more efficient. But maybe they’re missing out on their students’ best work because they aren’t giving them support and making them feel valued.

Universities need to rethink their values if professors want their students’ best work. Academia should be a community that values people’s personhood, not a factory for manufacturing high-yielding individuals.

Julia is a fourth-year Psychology student and one of The Journal’s Features Editors.

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