Rutgers-Camden Blog

Self-Advocacy 101: Professors and You!

Student with book in hand and talking to professor while walking outside

(written with the support of Taryn Cooper, M.A.)

The most important lesson a person will ever learn is how to communicate their needs in any given situation. Communication is a skill that is constantly being practiced, so keep in mind that there are no right or wrong ways to figuring out what works for you! A college environment can be tricky to navigate, but keeping these three themes in mind when it comes to your self-advocacy can help for future scenarios!

Theme 1: Communication

 People have all different ways of communicating with each other. Some people communicate with eye contact while others communicate with handshakes. Some people are better at communicating with their words while others are better at communicating in writing. No matter your style, it is important that communication happens between you and your professors in and out of the classroom. One of the best things you can do to set yourself up for a good semester with your classes and your professors is to establish clear lines of communication and how to best reach your professors. At times, professors will list their contact information in their syllabus that includes their phone number and best email to reach them with. Other professors may not list this information and might go over the best ways to reach them while in class. While communication is important throughout the semester, understanding your professors preferred method is best done in the beginning.

Theme 2: They’re Human?!

Believe it or not, your professors are actually human. It’s a realization you get once you see one of them at the grocery store and find out they prefer almond milk to regular milk. This also means that professors understand life happens and there are events that can impact your abilities to perform in their class. You may get sick, have a family emergency, car breaks down, or any other life event that sets the tone for your participation that day. It is significantly better to keep your professors in the loop about your needs and progress as the course is going than not mention anything to them at all. There are campus resources that can help you navigate these conversations, but your professors are the best place to start if something comes up for you and you are struggling. It shows them that you are taking the initiative instead of waiting until the last day of the semester.

Theme 3: You Never Know Until You Try, Practice Makes Perfect!

There is a stigma attached to asking for help and lots of people do not want to seem weak or incapable of doing the work. However, there is great strength in asking for help and admitting that you don’t know all the answers! Playing the ‘what if?’ game is a game that no one wins and only creates unnecessary anxiety. Instead of wondering what would have happened if you reached out to your professor and asked for an extension on an assignment, what’s the harm in actually asking? If a professor isn’t able to provide any flexibility, it demonstrates a clear-cut boundary that you can work around when it comes to your other classes. If there is more leniency in other classes, you can then prioritize the concrete deadlines to be finished first.

No one is instinctually born with the gift of gab or knows exactly what to say in each situation. The more you practice advocating for yourself the easier it gets and the more empowered you feel with each conversation! The experience comes from navigating different perspectives, solutions, and viewpoints.