As soon as I became a resident of Rocky College, I became the lucky advisee of a Peer Academic Adviser, Residential College Adviser, Alternate Residential College Adviser, Jewish Residential Counselor, Residential Graduate Student and faculty adviser. There were too many acronyms to keep straight, and the deluge of emails became irritating once the excitement of being cared about wore off. Thanks for the update about contraception, but I probably could have figured out for myself what was contained in the big box (tellingly labeled condoms) hanging on my RCA’s door. The message recommending sleep during midterm week was just a cruel reminder that we were not getting any.
It seems that there are enough advisers per student to take care of every social and academic aspect of our lives. And yet, one semester into my college career, I have difficulty identifying ways my advisers have benefited me in concrete terms. My social life has little to do with my RCA. My ARCA does not recognize me when I say hi to her on campus. Most students are not aware that they have an ARCA. Faculty advisers are friendly and eager to be of service, but their actual utility is severely limited by the fact that they have zero authority when it comes to many of the decisions worth consulting them about. I spent a good amount of time convincing my faculty adviser to let me take five courses, only to be referred to my director of studies for a legitimate sanction. I have not attended a single meeting with my PAA, partly because of scheduling conflicts and mostly because I doubt she has anything useful to add to the flood of advice that has been leveled at me since freshman week.
The advice can be summarized as follows: Drink safely. Sleep. Don’t set your dorm on fire. Don’t tape posters to your door just in case you do set your dorm on fire and get confused by the posters. Do not scream drunkenly at police officers when they come to break up your party.
Most teenagers arrive on campus having already made up their minds whether or not to follow these suggestions. Few students will be deterred from drinking by an adviser’s description of blackouts (consistently and unconvincingly prefaced by, “I’m not here to lecture you ...”). The tip about posters is helpful, but only the first time it is given. For every 40-minute meeting with an adviser, there is an hour-long assembly or performance conveying the same message. A student panel on diversity is followed by a zee-group discussion about diversity which, in turn, is followed by an LGBT Peer Educator study break addressing the same issue.
The tedious repetition of advice and information is inevitable given the excessive number of advisers. So many mentors need something to talk about during their mandatory 45-minute meetings. At first I found the glut of aides Princeton saddles its freshmen with insulting. The excess of guides seemed to indicate a lack of faith in our ability to figure things out for ourselves. Once I realized that the advice was only marginally useful and that advisers play ill-defined cheerleading roles on the sidelines of our college careers, I would have forgiven the system with tolerant amusement had it not choked my schedule with countless mandatory meetings. The superfluity of human resources may have more serious disadvantages, however. A freshman who actually needs help will not know who to turn to. Should he approach his ARCA? The resident graduate student? Is his the kind of problem one takes to UHS, the PAA, or should he just keep it to himself? A student set adrift in a sea of indefinite acronyms may well choose the last option.
The general consensus among freshmen is that, while advisers are likeable and fun, their roles are too ill-defined for us to find them useful as resources. What is their purpose? What are the differences between them? ARCA, PAAs and JRCs are particularly puzzling. They seem to function in the capacity of kindly older students you would never have met on your own, pleasant upperclassmen randomly (and not very heavily) invested in your success at Princeton. In other words, they are ready-made friends with some convenient experience.
Students facing physical, emotional and mental crises need someone to turn to. University Health Services covers Princetonians’ stomachs, hearts and heads with their Eating Concerns, Sexual Health, and Healthy Minds Advisers. Counselors from SHARE and McGraw tutors are invaluable assets. An RCA could be a lifeline for the quiet kid in the dorm next door who just needs someone to listen. Advisers with focused, defined roles will have an invaluable influence on freshmen.
At the moment, however, most adviser positions are anything but defined. Some of the them are clearly unnecessary. Others are potentially useful but have too much ambiguity of purpose. Students need and deserve a more compact group of advisers with distinct, understood roles in order to access the support system Princeton is attempting to provide. Right now, that system is markedly and regrettably dysfunctional.
Tehila Wenger is a freshman from Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached at email@example.com.