AAA: At YDS, more than roadside assistance
A small but energetic group of students have joined forces to give new meaning to "AAA" at Yale Divinity School. As a result of their efforts, AAA at YDS stands for "Academic Advocacy Assistance," which is a peer-advising network for students.
After an exploratory year meeting with faculty and staff and holding two lunchtime talks for students, AAA is readying to meet next year's entering class at Before the Fall Orientation in August, eager to assist fellow students with everything from requirements and waivers to extensions and applications.
Steve Blackmer '12 M.Div. hopes that AAA can allow students to "draw on the collective wisdom of their peers." He came to YDS with years of experience in organizing and advocacy but feels many students need help navigating the administrative systems of the Divinity School.
"If you're not coming from a background where you've been able to approach institutional authority, then you need support," observed Blackmer. "That's what AAA is trying to do."
Ashley Hurst '12 M.Div. remembers a class where the professor was negotiating final deadlines with students. While she was able to advocate for a later deadline for the term paper, another student was not. Hurst recalls thinking, "You have to know how to ask for things; you have to know how to put your case together."
That is what led her to AAA, which Hurst hopes becomes "more than students learning to advocate for themselves, but faculty learning to hear and becoming more hospitable."
Hurst may have a leg up on the typical entering student. Before coming to YDS, she spent 12 years in the legal field, rising to the rank of partner in her law firm. She said, "Advocacy is near to my heart. Like anything else, students can wait too long, be afraid to ask, or not know where to look for what they need. We want to change that."
Michelle Lewis '13 M.Div. said, "Sometimes it's as easy as asking, but sometimes there's a lot more to it, sometimes it takes knowing how to ask."
Lewis emphasized that "being in community means sharing knowledge and resources, which is what AAA is trying to do. We're practicing in our academic life how we'll conduct ourselves in the world."
Lisa Huck '88 M.Div., who as YDS registrar is close to, if not at, the epicenter of the administrative fray, spoke enthusiastically about AAA. "It will be extremely useful," she predicted. "I have a lot of respect for the folks providing the initial leadership."
More than anything, Huck said, she hopes "AAA normalizes the struggles and difficulties of students and encourages people to seek help when they need it. The worst thing a student can do is suffer in silence."
To that end, Huck emphasized the approachability of the Registrar's Office: "We want to work with students, not against students," she said. "We have policies and procedures, but they aren't meant to be hoops. They're ways of keeping people on track and maintaining the integrity of the program."
She along with other members of the staff-especially Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Emilie Townes, Associate Dean for Student Affairs Dale Peterson, and Assistant Dean for Assessment and Ministerial Studies William Goettler—want students to know that they can always seek information and assistance directly. Huck said it is "most important that students talk to someone: a professor, an academic advisor, one of the deans, or myself."
Blackmer and Hurst graduated in May, but AAA members Lewis and Margaret Fox '14 J.D./M.Div. will be recruiting new advocates over the summer and meeting incoming students at BTFO, Aug. 20-24. AAA is hoping to meet student need by hosting additional lunchtime talks where questions and concerns come before the room as well as by meeting with individual students to review their situations.