TAKE: Actively Engaged or Overly Committed?
June Griffin, Department of English, and Dorothe Bach, Department of German
this issue,Teaching Concerns launches a new column that offers contributors
the opportunity to present their personal viewpoints about teaching issues.
The following essay stems from a recent Undergraduate Student Focus Group
meeting convened by the TRC. Please send us your take on teaching issues.
Like most instructors, we have understood our students' involvement in
extracurricular activities as a sign of their interest in and commitment
to the university community, and as signs of a balanced attitude toward
life. But do our students do too much?
became aware that this healthy interest in things outside of academe might
have a downside. During a focus group discussing the influence of academic
work on our students' lives outside the classroom, the conversation turned
to the topic of extracurricular activities. The participants, undergraduates
from several schools at the University, seemed largely to agree with the
comments of one student who said, "I think at U.Va. there is a lot
of pressure to do more than just your academics. It is not okay to just
do your studies. There is a lot of pressure to fill your schedule until
you are overwhelmed-a widespread belief that if you don't do things, you
won't be happy." A few students disagreed, saying that their activities
provided an important "outlet," and that they wanted to take
advantage of as many great opportunities as they could. When asked if
they felt pressure to be active, they all agreed to varying degrees, noting
that most of the pressure came from "the community" and "other
students." One student called U.Va. the "land of super achievers."
seems so. While this is something that the University rightfully acknowledges
with pride, it also has a downside. One consequence of the pressure to
become involved is that the students feel they must do more to receive
recognition. Moreover, many believe that they are continually being evaluated.
One student said, "I wish...that my activities were my own."
those comments, we decided to find out more. According to a March 2001
report by the U.Va. Office of Institutional Assessment and Studies ("How
Undergraduates Spend Their Time" ), most U.Va. students are extensively
involved in activities outside of their academic studies. Here are sample
data on third-year students' average levels of activity:
- 91% spend
8.4 hours a week on extracurricular activities
- 84% spend
6.1 hours a week engaging in sports and exercise
- 49% spend
4.4 hours a week volunteering
students at other colleges and universities, U.Va. students seem to do
significantly more. Our fourth-years say they spend about 8 hours a week
on extracurricular activities, while seniors at seven other institutions
in the Association of American Universities and students at 276 national
colleges and universities said they spent about half that. Given these
numbers, it isn't surprising that some students feel pressure to be involved
and, perhaps, to overcommit themselves.
these data, it is clear that, as instructors, we need to think carefully
not only about the advice we give our students, but also about some of
our casual comments concerning their activities. What message do we want
to send? Is it all about external achievement or do we encourage personal
fulfillment? We do not mean to suggest that we should discourage our students
from participating in activities, but rather that we should encourage
them to find a sustainable balance. We need to listen to the way our students
talk about their activities, encourage them to pursue those they really
care about and to say no to others. This may be especially true for high-achieving
students. For all of our students, perhaps the most important message
we can send them is that we care about them as whole, well-rounded persons.