Losing Student Staff: A Blessing or a Curse?

By Mairead Kiernan

Coming completely out of left field this week, my coordinator team had a student staff member quit and give us about 26 hours notice before he moved out. We came to find out he had already signed a lease before resigning, had been thinking about quitting since training, and had told numerous staff members. To be perfectly honest, I was irate. I was responsible for hiring this student, we had worked together all of last year, and until 2 hours before he left, he said nothing to me about this decision. Having now had time to reflect, I wonder if his leaving was such a bad thing.

I pitched a fit in undergrad about my placement my senior year as an RA and my supervisor sat me down and said, “Mairead, we both know you’re a great RA, but you work for ‘the man’ and you are replaceable at the end of the day.” At the end of the day, I kept my job and that’s part of why I’m in the position I have today. As callous as it may sound, having my boss flat out tell me that I could be replaced was one of the most influential conversations I’ve had with a supervisor to date. Accordingly, I’ve had this conversation with my students both last year and this year. It might make me sound like a harsh supervisor, but I think it’s easy for staff to get in their minds that they’re the be-all end-all of a student staff position.

When I think about him leaving, I tell myself that first and foremost, the decision was obviously not ours to make for him. Do I wish he’d come and talked to me beforehand? Absolutely, but I wouldn’t have begged him to stay. Part of coming to college is learning to make decisions for yourself, so if this is what he felt was best, fine. Second, I think about the long-term impact on our staff and supervisory team. Sometimes when a student thinks you’re very close (you, the supervisor, and the student) they can try to play the system. Low and behold, this student tried to throw me under the bus about giving skewed expectations for this job. Now, if you know me, you know I don’t sugar coat things (or if you’ve read any of my posts, you can probably infer that as well). At the end of the day, I think I’m partially at fault for his leaving because of a perceived relationship we had.

Now what does all of this have to do with being in the few first years of a student affairs career? Well in watching my new building partner react, I realize it can be very easy to take a student staff member leaving personally. Not everyone just gets angry with the student like I did. It’s easy to think that we failed as supervisors or could have hired differently or maybe paid more attention in one on ones…the questions you can ask yourself are endless. At the end of the day, it’s easy to beat on ourselves, but the bottom line is that we did not make that decision for the student. If he felt like what he did was best for him, then maybe it’s also what is best for us. All we can do is keep moving forward, find a replacement, and repair what can be repaired with our staff.

Student Affairs - the First Years

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