This week I was in New York again for Wesleyan, but I spent more time than usual with what was for me a different facet of our community: parents. On Thursday night the mother and father of a current student welcomed a group to their Manhattan apartment. Once I stepped into their home, I knew it was going to be an exciting evening. In every room, on every wall, there was wonderfully interesting art to look at. Many of the pictures I recognized with pleasure from my years in California. The passion and thoughtfulness that one could see in the collection were manifest throughout the evening in conversations with all the parents who attended. Whether the subject was drinking on campus or the role of the liberal arts in our contemporary economy, the parents who attended had important insights to offer. Moreover, they were clearly enthusiastic about the experience of their students at Wesleyan. Of course, they also had suggestions concerning how we might still improve things. These are suggestions worth paying attention to!
On Friday I had lunch with a group of parents whose students graduated over the last several years. They had been very involved with the university while their sons and daughters were enrolled, and they are still interested in how where the university is progressing and how they can stay involved. Is it odd that they remain connected to Wesleyan now that their students are alumni, one wondered? I don’t think so. They became stakeholders of the institution through their children, and they remain positively connected on their own.
Much has been written about “helicopter parents” hovering over their adult children’s lives. I’ve already seen too many mothers and fathers stepping in for their students as “advocates” rather than allowing them to grow up and fend for themselves. And students are quick to call parents to get help on everything from food suggestions to advice on papers. How different this is from when I was a student, and we were urged to call weekly to check in from the pay phone in the hall!
But the involvement of parents is often a very positive thing, and I have seen how they frequently help their students get the most out of their undergraduate years. From issues in residential life to uncertainties concerning course selection, parents offer good counsel to their students, and they get involved in the life of the university. Wesleyan is a much better place because of intergenerational commitment, and I am hopeful that Wes parents will retain affection and loyalty to the institution as their daughters and sons become engaged in the university’s active alumni networks.