First-year students, Chickering and Conduct
Having spent the greater part of last week grading papers about Chickering and his seven vectors I feel compelled to re-think, re-visit, and reflect on the ways in which my first-year students and I have now come to see the vectors. I’ll be honest, I was not a big fan on Chickering last year. I found his theory long, complicated and hard to apply to my daily work. Having read a much shorter version and spent time seeing Chickering from a first-year students viewpoint, I’ve come away with some important realizations.
One of the main concepts that I came away with after reading my students’ responses was how much the vectors overlap and connect to one another. In many ways, they are not anywhere near as clear cut as Chickering’s theory would suggest. Developing competence in interpersonal skills is absolutely necessary in order to develop mature relationships and manage emotions. The two elements of Vector 4- acceptance of differences and the capacity to trust and open up to others are intrinsically connected. Everyone has a slightly different time frame when it comes to opening up to others and those who are able to accept these differences are able to develop increasingly mature relationships.
I found that it was quite easy for students to understand and personalize the first four vectors. Many of them talked about their experiences having roommates/hall mates and how that was a huge step in them developing interpersonal skills, handling their emotions in new ways, and realizing how much other people’s words and actions affect them and visa versa. They talked about learning to do things on their own (laundry, banking, time management) and balancing their new independence with a need to be responsible for themselves.
Vectors 5 through 7 were a bit harder and why shouldn’t they be? Chickering indicates that these vectors aren’t fully developed until junior/senior year and beyond. Of course many of my students thought that they were well on their way to meeting these vectors, which brought about mixed emotions in me. On the one hand, I was glad to see that they were past the point of simply accepting an authority’s theory and were willing to disagree with some of its tenants. On the other hand, I felt like several students were foreclosed in their identity development and unable to indicate in the slightest flexibility when it came to their views and values.
Having read a much more basic version of this theory and then viewed it through the eyes of first-year students, I have new motivation to try and apply it more in my daily work. In particular I want to focus on having conversations that break down the element of vector 3 that deals with recognizing the weight of one’s actions and words on other people. I to stress the impact that they are having on the campus community when they drink, cheat, steal, etc. and how each and every student has an integral role in the quality of OSU. I need to recognize and openly appreciate when students are able to open up and trust me with their stories. I often find myself expecting students to open up and instead I need to recognize their honesty as a sign of them developing greater capacities in many of Chickering’s vectors. Lastly I need to provide them with questions that open the door to new thoughts about their identity and integrity. I can’t have a great deal of impact on their individual paths, but I can provide a view new viewpoints along the way that might make them stop, think and then, with any luck, act.