Did the Dog Eat Your Empathy?

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In the past academic year alone students have come to me about a range of issues that have effected their performance and attendance in my modules: bereavement, physical illness, mental illness, coming out to their families and friends, pregnancy, financial struggle, work commitments due to financial struggles, sexual assault, homesickness, relationship break-ups. None of my students’ grandmothers died this year. But as Acclimatrix writes, sometimes the death of a grandmother is a necessary lie that students tell when the thing they are actually struggling with is something they can’t or don’t want to talk about with us or anyone.

I hope the students who take modules with me find me open-minded, welcoming and safe. I am not a therapist or mental health expert of any kind. But as someone who these students have to spend one or more hours per week with, who receives their assignments and delivers feedback to them, and meets with them to discuss their academic progress, I do feel a certain sense of responsibility towards them.

Since I began teaching seven years ago, a number of students have told me their grandmothers died. I am sure that there were occasions when the grandmother was actually a medical crisis, a distressing situation, or something they didn’t think would be met with empathy. These are real human beings in front of us. Major life events are happening to them in the one, two, three or more years that they spend with us and we should not forget that.

I love a bit of well-executed satire as much as the next person. But joking about those times when students are sending out distress signals, either transparently or otherwise, is unnecessary to put it lightly. I am based in Ireland where mental health services are abysmal. We as lecturers cannot replace these services, but we can ensure that those who may be suffering due to the general inaccessibility of such services and the social stigmas associated with being anywhere from blue to severely distressed and suicidal do not walk away from us feeling even more isolated.

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