WWU Faculty members start new 'Community Office Hours' project

Every college student has had days, weeks, months and maybe even years when they feel the weight of the world pushing down on them as they try to juggle school, work and social responsibilities.

Faculty members Katherine Anderson of the English Department and Nick Galati of the Biology Department know the pressures of a university environment as well as anyone. To try to alleviate some of this pressure they are creating the “Community Office Hours” program to provide extra support for students and to contribute to a supportive campus community.

The goal of the Community Office Hours program, is to provide an opportunity for students to connect with faculty members outside of their field of study, in a space in which students and faculty can interact in a space devoid of grades, classes and power hierarchies.

Currently Anderson and Galati are working together to offer interdisciplinary office hours to their own classes as they work to grow the program through grass-roots promotion. Both professors encourage any and all students and faculty who would like to participate in this program to contact the two of them, ether as students seeking advice or support, or a faculty member looking to volunteer and assist.

The two first-year professors met at an active learning workshop for new faculty and soon began to formulate a way to contribute to Western.

“When we were dealing with our own hardships in college, we were lucky enough to have faculty mentors who went above and beyond to help us achieve what we didn’t think we could, and we’re excited to do the same. Nick and I were both first-generation students who struggled trying to fit in on a college campus,” Anderson said.

Galati and Anderson initially spoke of implementing mentoring programs for first-generation students at Western, but after witnessing the student forum at the end of fall quarter they started to think of what all students at Western might need. This led them to the idea of creating drop-in office hours that will help build a stronger interdisciplinary community, and be a space that faculty members could take turns staffing for an hour each. They hope this will allow students the ability to drop in throughout the day.

As professors, we often assume a blanket open-door policy will encourage our students to connect with us, but this kind of well-intentioned vagueness does little to dissipate student discomfort.

“We believe that the interdisciplinary community-oriented office hours will help students and faculty find a common ground with one another,” Galati said.

Galati and Anderson have been working to spread the word about their program around Western, and from these efforts they have received support from within their departments and from about 30 other faculty members around campus.

In a proposal written to their administrators and colleagues, Anderson and Galati discussed how the conflicting nature that conventional office hours can have on a professor’s ability to supply support outside of a course.  

“As professors, we often assume a blanket open-door policy will encourage our students to connect with us, but this kind of well-intentioned vagueness does little to dissipate student discomfort,” they stated in their proposal.

The norm is for students to visit professors for help with class work. While these interactions are good, they also inadvertently create a taboo about approaching professors for support or mentoring for issues that are not class specific. 

The discomfort and insecurity students often feel when approaching faculty is the central issue Galati and Anderson are hoping community office hours will combat. Central to their mission is making sure everyone who might need support has a place to go.

Galati and Anderson have already started an interdisciplinary partnership by offering support between their own classes with more faculty set to join in the coming quarters. As more faculty and students learn about this opportunity they hope it will grow to the point where there is always an office available for students to stop by for mentoring and support.

“Even if students don’t happen to come to the office hours during a certain quarter, just knowing they exist if and when a student needs them or wants to access them can make a huge difference in how that student feels supported,” Anderson.

For more information about Community Office Hours, or to volunteer to help, contact Nick Galati or Katherine Anderson through their respective emails at Nick.Galati@wwu.edu and katherine.anderson@wwu.edu