An Ethical Dilemma of a Hypothetical Nature

Meg’s recent hints of students in crisis over at xoom raises a question for me, one I’ve been wondering about for some time. This really is more hypothetical than actual, at the moment, but it’s had moments of actuality, and I’m just kinda wondering how to handle it should it arise again in the future.

Say, for instance, that one of your students, or former students, gave you her LiveJournal URL — she reads your blog, and invited you to read hers. And say that, through her friends list, you come upon a community composed of many students from your institution. And say that, perhaps, you peek into that community from time to time, just to get a sense of the campus vibe. No judgments. No real sense of what LJ belongs to whom. Just a curiosity, as I say, about the general sense of things on campus and an enjoyment, mostly, of the writing.

Say, though, that through a series of circumstances you sorta accidentally figure out who the author of one such journal is — not a student of yours personally, perhaps, but a student of whom you are aware. And say that you become familiar enough with this student through her LJ to get the impression that, of late, she’s become massively depressed, and that her academic life is suffering because of it.

What do you do? You’ve come to this conclusion via information that you’re sorta not supposed to have, and through a source that might indicate more venting and hyperbole than actual factual representation. On the other hand, if the student really is in crisis, you ought to tell someone, right? Someone who can at least do a subtle check-in and see if everything’s okay? But what do you say?

4 thoughts on “An Ethical Dilemma of a Hypothetical Nature

  1. Is there some kind of advisement mechanism that could be used? And really, what’s so wrong about your having that information? It is public, after all. My first semester at my job, I had a student commit suicide. If I’d had any clue that she was in that kind of trouble, I wouldn’t have hesitated.

  2. well hrm. i’m also in the LJ community i’d guess you’re talking about. the ethical dilemmas go both ways….a friend of mine and i found a blog once that was obviously a consortium prof, and most of this person’s blog was about an extramarital affair with a student. we ended up totally staying out of it, and things resolved themselves, as far as we can tell. but still–it was a pretty big thing to come upon online.

    i guess if a prof found my LJ or my other blog (my LJ is mostly locked to the public anyway), and I was having a really hard time, I might really appreciate some kind of intervention. Is there any way you can just tell that student’s advisor you heard through another anonymous kid that that student seems to be having some problems? maybe the advisor can even just go have lunch with that student, so he or she feels like there’s some mentor figure to turn to for support. Or do you know any of that student’s close friends? maybe you could check in that way. or through one of the official “peer mentors,” or whatever they’re calling them these days. I guess I’d freak if I thought the whole faculty was out there reading my blog, but that’s sort of part hazard when you are a member of a public, identifiable online community like some of those college LJ ones. I think not intervening at all could turn into some kind of regret later, though.

  3. knowing the way the college works, it wouldnt be inapporpriate at all if you asked a colleage who knows students x well enough to check in and see if there needs to be further assistance. i would imagine, given the fairly frequent informal and personal interactions that the small college atmosphere facilitates between the students and the faculty, that perhaps student x’s advisor or other professors might suspect something anyway. your knowing nudge might be just what they need to act.

    if it was me, and sometimes it was me, i would/was glad that a prof intervened.

  4. Thanks for these responses, you guys — this was kinda what I was thinking: a discreet nudge to someone in a position to make inquiries. If the student were a student of mine (as it has been in the past), I’d make such inquiries myself, absolutely. Anyhow, thanks.

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