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apathetic-professors
Credit: Future Kortor

When I watched “Good Will Hunting” for the first time as a high schooler, I marveled over how the professor in the movie not only helped Will cultivate a passion for mathematics but he also undertook Will’s personal strife and actively helped him overcome it. Although it’s a work of fiction, the movie sparked excitement within me as I looked forward to the day I’d receive a similar mentorship.

Penn certainly provides opportunities for students to seek mentorship, but there also seems to be a tinge of apathy from professors to provide anything further than adequate lectures for their students. In fact, this apathy may reverberate on college campuses across the country. A recent survey revealed that only 43% of college graduates somewhat or strongly agreed with the statement “While attending (institution), I had a mentor who encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams.” What’s more revealing is that 19% “strongly disagreed” with the statement.

This semester, I’ve been lucky to learn from professors who truly care. On the first day of one of my classes, the professor emphasized the importance of mental health and even discussed his own experience with Counseling and Psychological Services. Another one of my professors, in the middle of an intricate lecture, unexpectedly began to encourage students about his journey to America for higher education and the fact that trying your best is enough. These small moments have contributed to a great feeling that my professors are not intimidating authoritative figures, but rather mentors who reassure that there is a bright future ahead.

More than that, when my professors shared their stories, they appeared human: they could relate to us, students. New York Times columnist David Brooks speaks about how an emotional relationship between professors and pupils can correlate with effective learning. Years earlier, he was teaching a course at Yale University when he announced that he had to cancel office hours due to personal issues that a friend was helping him with. That evening, around a dozen students emailed him, saying they were thinking of him and keeping him in their prayers. The rest of the semester was different — the class was closer, more engaged and motivated. Emotion designates value to things and dictates what to pay attention to, care about, and remember. As he states, “that one tiny whiff of vulnerability meant that I wasn’t aloof Professor Brooks, I was just another schmo trying to get through life.”

It’s unfortunate that in a university as highly regarded as Penn, encountering a professor who fosters this sort of compassionate learning environment is somewhat of a rare occurrence. In one dismal case, a friend of mine had three midterms in one day, and none of her professors were willing to understand her situation and accomodate her. In other cases, some Penn professors, especially those who conduct research, seem to lecture only so that they can get back to the better half of their research professorship. 

Of course, students desiring mentorships must put in the effort to pursue them. But how are we supposed to discover our life mentors when they come across as completely disinterested? Sharing stories, empathizing with students, and vocalizing support creates a strong foundation for mentorship to grow. The same professor who underlined that trying your best is enough said something along the lines, “You guys are the next generation. I love teaching the next generation. I love you all.” In an introductory class of over a hundred students, these words were able to make an impact on each and every one of us. All Penn professors should strive to achieve this level of compassion for their students.

CHRISTY QIU is a College sophomore from Arcadia, Calif. Her email address is qiu@thedp.com.

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