Mark Serdjenian '73, associate dean
of students, talks of the "bittersweet struggle— parents face in
learning to back away after nurturing their children for 18 years.
"Parents can no longer control what life has in store for their son or
daughter, and that can be scary. They know that their child will change
in college, but they don't know how. It's really a fear of the unknown.—
acknowledges that not all parents adapt successfully to their new
roles. "Sometimes a parent of a first-year student will call in the
summer and say something like, 'We are thinking of taking a course in
biology' or 'We plan to major in economics.' In fact, students must
feel free to follow their own passions, to set their own academic
Beverly and Michael Wilson are in touch with their daughter, Naomi 07, daily with e-mail and instant messaging or by phone.
Although he occasionally must deal with an overly
possessive or protective parent, Serdjenian says most parents do a fine
job in their new roles. He encourages ongoing communication between the
parent and the student and between the parent and Colby.
is a natural area for extended parental involvement in the lives of
students. Parents of student-athletes enjoy an extra opportunity to
stay in touch by attending games. And, increasingly, they do just that.
"Parents think nothing of driving to Waterville every weekend,—
marveled Marcella Zalot, director of athletics. "They used to set up
tailgating parties just during football games; now we see them in lots
of sports.— She estimates that at least half the parents of
student-athletes regularly attend games, stay in touch with coaches
through e-mail or by phone, or attend athletic banquets.
most part, Zalot views the increased parental involvement on the
athletic scene as a positive development. She does, however, point out
that there is a fine line between involvement and intrusion. "Let your
students make their own mistakes and learn from them,— Zalot said.
"It's their path, not yours.—
Some professors at Colby look less
favorably upon frequent student-parent contact than do administrators.
"Constant student-parent communication prolongs adolescence,— cautioned
Tom Morrione '65, Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology. "Sometimes
that's necessary, but often it is not. Students should get unplugged
from cell phones for a while; it's a different experience and different
experiences are good.—
Morrione readily admits that times have
changed drastically since he lived in Averill Hall 40 years ago. "The
one phone on the floor rang endlessly,— he recalled, "and students
endlessly did not answer it.— He also recognizes that constant cell
phone use has become the norm and that it's difficult, often stressful,
for students and/or parents to break the habit.
NEH/Class of 1940 Distinguished Professor of Humanities in the
Department of French and Italian, takes a softer stance. As head of
Colby's Dijon program for years, Weiss recognizes the importance of
student-to-parent accessibility, especially during the first semester.
He enjoys regular contact with first-year parents while he is on
overseas programs, particularly communication concerning the students'
overall welfare, not purely academic matters.
understands the pitfalls of the cell phone crutch. "We took a hike in
the Alps, and just as we were coming down the mountain a student's cell
phone rang. I wish we hadn't had that intrusion.— Weiss also wonders
about the mother of a first-year student who called her daughter in
Europe every night to read a bedtime story.
But Weiss did
confess that he does not always practice what he preaches. "I'm
constantly trying to resist the temptation to call my son at Trinity!—
Gouvêa, professor of mathematics, reports that parents seem to
intervene directly only during the first year. "When I'm doing
first-year advising, I often run up against 'but my mother said'
arguments,— he said. "For example, there's 'My mother said I should
take the easier calculus course so that I can get good grades and get
into med school.' I tell them that that strategy rarely works.—
Another professor, who requested anonymity, said that his only negative
experiences with parents involve their putting excessive pressure on
students over grades or choice of majors. "These parents are the
exception,— he noted, "but I see one a semester.—
On a more
positive note, Tom Berger, Carter Professor of Mathematics, says that
he's had many favorable interactions with parents, and they are not
unusual. One parent even thought enough to endow a scholarship to Colby
in Berger's name.
Michael Wilson admits that he and his wife,
Beverly, were mentally but not emotionally prepared for life without
their only child, Naomi '07, living at home. "It was lonelier than we
had anticipated,— he said. "Life is not the same when you're living
with just your dog and cat.—
Wilson laughs when he compares
the contact he had with his own parents during his college years with
the communication he maintains with Naomi. "My parents were lucky to
get a call or a letter once every two or three weeks. We're in touch
with Naomi perhaps twice a day, if you count e-mails and instant
This connected father is delighted with the
communication he's had with Colby. "The attentiveness of the faculty
has exceeded our expectations, the coaches are exemplary, and Naomi has
become more independent, just as we had hoped she would.—