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  • Are You Meeting With Students Behind a Closed Door?

    February 24, 2020 | By NACE Staff

    Best Practices
    A career adviser meets with a student in her private office.

    TAGS: best practices, policy, spotlight, career development

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    A career services professional recently opened a discussion in the NACE Community saying if he sees a closed office door when a student and staff member are meeting, he opens the office door.

    He’s worried about the potential for inappropriate conduct or accusations of inappropriate conduct arising when no one can see what’s going on in the office. He asked colleagues for their perspectives on this issue and to share their office’s policy on closed doors during meetings with students.  

    One responder, who noted that there should be a policy in place that honors and protects the staff and the students, said, “Our entire team regularly meets with students behind closed doors, as our conversations with students often reveal [personal or sensitive concerns]. This allows for trust to build and freedom for students to share information without fear of consequence from someone outside of the professional relationship. I would be taken off guard if a supervisor interrupted the meeting by opening the door and asking that it stay open. I imagine that could give the wrong impression to a student, and potentially invoke fear or feelings of distrust toward their career counselor.” 

    Colleagues joining the discussion shared their opinions and insight: 

    • Open doors or windows looking into offices or conference rooms are a protection for students and staff.  
    • Students who want to disclose personal or sensitive information may prefer a closed-door session and finding a way to keep the meeting private is important.  
    • Student ambassadors tend to keep their doors open when working with students. One practitioner said his student workers use “high-visibility public spaces that are still amenable to quiet conversation so there can be privacy with safety.” 
    • Most offices have a policy in place or are developing a policy. Several practitioners pointed to the NACE Principles for Ethical Professional Practice as a good starting place for developing an office policy. 

    In one career services office, students can decide whether the door is open or closed. Offices have windows next to the door. At another school, where students can request a closed door for more privacy, the student and adviser will move to an office that has windows. At a third, staff are expected to close their doors when coaching a student, but all offices have large windows.  

    An experienced career services staff member said, “I have worked for both public and private universities. During most of my career, expectations were for closed doors to protect the confidentiality of the student, and that is the practice we use here in our offices. Some students do not want others to know they are visiting the office to get help, so [they] appreciate their privacy protected. I have been in sessions where students shed tears and experience embarrassment or other deep feelings about the topics [that] we are discussing. Given that academic and career decisions and tasks are often intertwined with relationship and life issues, the adviser-advisee conversation is not always a dry, emotionless transaction. However, if the client prefers a door open, it is their prerogative. In some settings where I have worked, there was concern for mixed-gender conversations behind closed doors, based on the comfort of either party.” 

    Another said doors are always open in the career center because offices do not have windows on interior walls.

    “A closed door means privacy in a conversation, but also high [threat or risk], especially for a student who may have experienced primary or secondary trauma,” the career services staff member wrote.

    “It also protects staff from accusations. Fortunately, our population is predominantly graduate level, so slightly older, and there seems to be little stigma attached to working with our office." 

    How do you balance privacy and protection in your office? Join the discussion, “Meeting Behind Closed Doors,” in the NACE Community.

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