Before coming to Bowdoin, college guidebooks told us that professors here would invite us into their homes, take us to lunch, and ask us to babysit their kids. Many of us hoped to form close relationships with our professors, and we expected that such relationships would spring up naturally, easily, and frequently. While some students have had just these sorts of experiences, many others may feel surprised or disappointed that they have not.
But we can hardly point fingers at our professors. We've just become too sheepish in the ways we interact with each other. Last semester, the Orient conducted a poll about dating and relationships that revealed most students have been too nervous to ask someone out when they wanted to. Though it should be easier to stroll into a professor's office than to ask someone out on a date, students generally tend to shy away from both situations.
There's no question that our professors are busy. They spend countless hours working on research, preparing lectures, and attending faculty committee meetings. But most professors also designate one to three hours a week for office hours, and often invite students to make appointments outside of this allotted time. Our own hectic schedules should not prevent us from engaging in out-of-class discussion with our educators.
We also forget that our half-formed ideas or questions are exactly the kinds of things we should see our professors about. The opportunity to interact with students in this way may be what drew our professors to become educators at a liberal arts college in the first place. Professors are generally delighted to talk about their research, share insights and experiences, or just shoot the breeze.
E-mail between students and professors can be convenient for questions of clarification, and it has become an invaluable tool for almost everyone in this community. But it does not—and should not—replace the candid, face-to-face interactions that are at the heart and soul of a small, liberal arts college like this one.