Advising System Questioned

Students Ask Whether Tragedy Could Have Been Avoided

The deaths of two Dunster House juniors last week left students reeling in shock and questioning what could have been done to prevent the tragedy at a university that boasts an extensive network of support services and counseling resources.

In interviews yesterday, many students house senior tutors and assistant senior tutors said the College's network of tutors is not able to reach everyone, but that the system works as well as it can under the current structure.

But some are questioning whether the system works. And others ask whether it should be changed to increase staff contact with students.

"Ideally, there should be one person each student feels he or she could go to, and that never happens," said Steven D. Nelson, an assistant senior tutor in Winthrop House. "The Dunster thing is an example of that, and I don't think that's necessarily anyone's fault."

Under the current advising system, each student is assigned at least two tutors: an entryway tutor and a concentration adviser. Students are also assigned pre-med and pre-law advisers.

At the top of the system are the Allston Burr senior tutors, who

At the top of the system are the Allston Burrsenior tutors, who supervise the structure of theadvising system, and the house masters, whoorganize house and social activities.

At the University-wide public meeting Thursday,students harshly criticized what they perceived asthe inadequacies of the house tutor system.

"The role of the house master has decreasedsubstantially," one student said. "Senior tutor isonly a part-time job."

At one time, faculty members frequently livedin the houses and maintained daily contact withstudents. Now, masters are usually the onlyprofessors in the house, while resident tutors arealmost universally graduate students.

Few tutors or masters are mental healthprofessionals.

Two Roles

According to University policy, all houses mustprovide students with a sophomore adviser. "Theadviser is supposed to check in a couple of timesa semester at least" to discuss non-academicissues with students, according to Dunster HouseSenior Tutor Suzi Naiburg.

However, "a lot of people don't ever see theirsophomore advisers," said William Weitzel, aresident tutor in Cabot House.

Enforcement of tutorial regulations appears tobe relatively lax. The only evaluation ofsophomore advisers comes at the end of the year,when students do not expect to have future contactwith them.

And some wonder whether the system ofnon-concentration advising should be extendedbeyond sophomore year.

"After the sophomore year, we keep up withthese people, but we don't make the effort" tomake regular contact, said Kathryn Welter,assistant senior tutor in Leverett House.

Many of the tutors interviewed said they felttoo much of their time was taken up with enforcingrules, leaving them little time to socialize withstudents.

"I think the problem is that too many residenttutors concentrate on their strictly rule-orientedduties and fail to communicate with people asfriends," Weitzel said.

"Part of the difficulty stems from the factthat the tutors aren't supposed to be proctors,"Lowell House Senior Tutor Alexandra L. Barcussaid. "There are some tutors who are more involvedwith their work and less accessible. We are aimingto cover wide range of academic fields. We haven'taimed to hire counselors, that's what [UniversityHealth services] and the Bureau of Study Counselare for."

The overlap between the academic and personaladvisory roles appears to be a central issue. theUniversity hires groups of tutors to provideacademic advice in each house, but rarely requestsa counseling background. Nelson said it is notusual for tutors to have counseling experience.

"I think what they could do is focus more onletting tutors know what they might be in for,"Nelson said. "The College has to be more organizedabout orientation."

One tutor suggested the college try a type oftutor mentoring program.

"I think conversations between veteran and newtutors need to happen," said Lance D. Laird, anassistant senior tutor in Pforzheimer House.

Many tutors and students interviewed said therole of the tutors is limited in a college whichtries to treat its students as mature adults.

"They're grown-ups. By and large they should beworking things out and coming to counseling whenthey need it," Barcus said. "The person who shouldbe concerned with the proctor type duties is thesenior tutor and the assistant senior tutors."

But at Thursday's meeting, Epps remindedstudents and staff that college is intended as atransition to adulthood rather than as a test ofmaturity.

"We want each student to know the value ofthese four years, and how college is a transitionto adulthood," Epps said. "We want to help allthat we can as we take those paths throughcollege."

But tutors said that they personally may not beprepared to handle some of the most difficultsituations which arise during that transitionperiod.

"Obviously, we're not trained professionals,"Barcus said. "All we can do is recognize what wethink is a difficulty and address it by sending itto the proper people."

Some students agree that a system of moreregular non-academic visits after sophomore yearwould be bothersome or patronizing.

"I've enjoyed the greater freedom of living ina house and not having a proctor whose job it wasto check up on me," said Nicole P. Aementa '95. "Alot of people might find it invasive."

"I don't think the problems in Dunster are sofar-reaching that we need draconian measures,"said Dunster resident Vijay B. Culas '95."[Tutors] should be more pro-active in tellingstudents about the resources that are available."

Seeking Out Help

Tutors said one if the factors that hinderstheir effectiveness is students' reluctance toadmit they need help or let others know they arehaving problems.

"There are a very large number of people whofeel they should be capable of handling whetever'scoming down the road, no matter how bad that is,"said Barcus. "I think that's unfortunate."

"There's nothing wrong in asking for help. Itdoesn't mean you don't belong here," Laird said."I read that quote in the paper 'Never let anybodysee you sweat'. Everybody knows everybody sweats."

Neither Sinedu Tadesse '96 nor Trang Phuong Ho'96 offered any indication of personal problems intheir regular meetings with their entryway andpre-med adviser, Naiburg said.

Dunster House Master Karel F. Liem metregularly with both Ho and Tadesse as theirbiology tutor, according to Naiburg and PresidentNeil L. Rudenstine.

"Neither student had sought out a tutor,including myself, so that there were no signals inany way," Naiburg said. "Nor had anything come upin the regular advising conferences."

"If there was someone who was doing absolutelyfine academically and as far as I could see wasdoing fine socially...There would be preciouslittle for me in the way of signs" of problems,Barcus said.

But some students said seeking counseling atHarvard requires a degree of initiative that notall students posses.

"If students are having a tough time tellingfriends, I have a hard time believing they wouldopen up to tutor, who for the most part are twiceremoved from the situation," Culas said.

"What happened in Dunster could have happenedanywhere, no matter how much attention people are[paying to their advises]," Laird said. "We have areally good tutorial staff and students have saidthat, but you can't be Big Brother and stare fromthe corners of their rooms."

One thing is certain--the system will undergo are-evaluation, following the incident at Dunster.

"Dean Knowles and I have talked about...lookingto make sure that advising systems are aseffective as they can be, Rudenstine said. "Youcan never do enough, but at least I know thatthere were people in touch with these students.