Tutoring on Campus: Is there a stigma?

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Academic Support Center in the basement of the library (Tatum King/The Picket)

There is student somewhere, walking around Shepherd University with a weight on his shoulders. Every day when he wakes up, he feels his heart quicken with stress as he remembers that he has yet another test in his class, and he has been struggling with the material for weeks. He didn’t do well last time, and he probably won’t do well this time. This constant stress has become his life, and he feels so alone in his struggles. Isn’t there somewhere he could go?

If someone were to ask this student if he has considered going to Shepherd University’s peer tutoring in the Academic Support Center, he would probably say “Yes, but…” and give some reason why he couldn’t go. Maybe he doesn’t have enough time, or he has other homework to do, or maybe he has to work a part-time job outside of school. Or a fourth option: tutoring on Shepherd’s campus is seen as only a place where the truly desperate go to get help when they are failing.

The Academic Support Center is run by director Emily Gross, and is made up of full-time, undergraduate students who received a “B” grade in the course they are tutoring or above. Subjects tutored range from music courses to science courses, and from writing tutoring to praxis exam help. This tutoring center is free to all students to use from the beginning of classes until the end of the week before finals. Despite the fact that it is free to use by all students, many students believe that it is only for those who are failing courses and who are not well adjusted to college.

However, many of the students who do come to the Academic Support Center (ASC) on campus are students who are doing moderately well and are looking to boost their grade and learn just a little bit more than everyone else. Despite this fact, the ASC still holds the stigma that tutoring is only for the truly desperate.

James Walker, a sophomore environmental science major, said that he had considered going to tutoring at Shepherd, but something was stopping him. He said that he has made up excuses just so he didn’t have to go do it, like being too busy, not having enough time between classes, or making up tasks that he had to do outside of his school work. But why has he been avoiding it so assiduously?

Matthew Goode, a first-year computer science major at Shepherd, pinned this reluctance as a belief that students who go to get tutored by other peers would be considered less than other students because they could not handle college on their own. He said that students might think that needing help makes them less smart, and they fear the judgement of their peers if their tutoring was ever made known.

Students who had made use of the ASC, however, disputed this fact. Noah French, a sophomore nursing major, regularly made use of the ASC for one of his chemistry classes. Before he went to the ASC, he was struggling in his class. After he went a few times, he started to see improvement in his grade. He realized that instead of going to tutoring to fix a bad grade in a class, students were going to the tutoring center to help maintain their good grades.

Most of the students that Samuel Bower tutors are just looking for a second opinion or teaching method to make the material clearer. Bower, who has been tutoring for four semesters, tutors music theory, aural skills, and music pedagogy at Shepherd University. Instead of looking for help whenever they are struggling whenever they schedule an appointment with him, the students are actually just looking for more clarification to learn the material even more better than they did before.

Director Emily Gross envisions the Academic Support Center to be more like the tutoring that Bower is doing. She said, “[First year students] come in with stigma and a mentality that that you only go to tutoring if you’re struggling in a course, or it’s kind of a sign of weakness… I try my best to get the students to understand that even tutors sign up and use the programs.” Gross believes that the ASC is a place for a student to receive the extra support to excel in his or her classes, not just survive a hard spot in the semester.

Professors feel the same way. Dr. Kurtis Adams is a big promoter of tutoring at Shepherd. As a music professor and the director of Jazz studies, he feels that going to tutoring on campus is one of the best things a student can do for themselves and their grade. He said, “We even tell students that it doesn’t matter if you feel like you’re comfortable with the material: still get a tutor.” For many professors, getting a tutor is a show of strength, rather than the weakness many students perceive it to be.

However, these professors know that there is a potential apathy or stigma about tutoring on campus, and that students are not going to tutoring when they need it. Dr. Adams believes that while there is not real, overt stigma about tutoring, there is a reluctance or hesitation that students have about going to Shepherd Tutoring that is holding them back from getting help. He believes that this may be for a plethora of reasons, including a misconception about what the tutoring center really does or who goes there. Overall, however, he believes that students who could benefit from tutoring are not going.

This might not all be due to stigma, but instead might be because incoming students do not know about the Academic Support Center. To combat this, Gross has been pushing her tutors into classrooms to target first year students and sophomore students who may or may not be aware of the Academic Support Center’s existence at all.

For these first-year students and sophomore students, Gross wants the Academic Support Center to be a place for students to have help adjusting to college life at Shepherd University. The Academic Support Center is promoted in new student orientation, on campus tours, and even on the Shepherd University calendar given to students every year. Tutors are available for brief commercials to give to classes to promote the ASC as a resource that all students can use, and show them how to sign up for a tutoring appointment online.

Dr. Karen Adams, an assistant math professor here at Shepherd who is the self-proclaimed biggest advocate on tutoring, makes good use of this service of promotion. While she doesn’t believe that there is an openly negative stigma, she does recognize that tutoring could be intimidating to students. As a result, she always talks about the ASC on the first day of class, and pulls in tutors to come meet students and give the students familiar faces to meet with throughout the semester if they choose to.

The ASC is not just a place where students go to get help when they are really struggling, but is instead a place where students can receive extra help to succeed no matter their grade in their class. Director Emily Gross and professors at Shepherd University want students to realize that while students can go to tutoring if they are struggling, they can also go when they are doing well and get that extra edge to make them do even better in the class.

Students who are being kept away from tutoring because they fear being viewed as inept at succeeding on their own should know that even tutors use the ASC, and that they are not alone in feeling this. So, to that student who is walking around with stress weighing them down, there is somewhere you can go to get help. You are not alone at Shepherd; there are a large selection of peer tutors waiting to help you with no judgement. And, to top it all off, the ASC is free to all those who wish to use it to get that extra few points on their grade and a better understanding of the material in their classes, if they are willing to work for it.

Marilyn Creager is a news reporter for The Picket. She can be reached at mcreag01@rams.shepherd.edu