Confronting Conundrums of Care in College Student Advising


  • Roy Schwartzman North Carolina State University, USA
  • Jenni Simon University of North Carolina at Greensboro
  • Cynthia Zuckerman Hyman North Carolina State University



academic advising, women in higher education, learned helplessness, self-efficacy, resilience, higher education reform


At colleges and universities throughout the United States, academic advisors play a central role in stemming the tide of declining student enrollment and academic underachievement—especially in the wake of academic, physical, emotional, and interpersonal setbacks incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. For many undergraduates, the mentoring relationship with their academic advisor provides the longest lasting and deepest connection with a faculty or staff member throughout their college experience. Increasingly, the expectations that institutions and students place on academic advisors have escalated far beyond simply guiding course selection and checking fulfillment of graduation requirements. While this more holistic approach to advising can cultivate a greater sense of belonging, it also places the advisors in a precarious position as the parameters of their responsibilities and the extent of caregiving continue to broaden. The ever-expanding expectations of caregiving placed on college academic advisors exemplify how pandemic-informed labor practices across many workplaces inadequately acknowledge caregivers while the care recipients may become overly dependent.

This study investigates how advising evolves to become an extrapolation of the caregiving demands socially placed upon women in traditional, patriarchally structured families and workplaces. Using methods derived from critical incident theory that identify systemic crisis points and opportunities for intervention, the authors examine narratives of two women who serve as the lead advisors for their departments in southeastern United States universities. Their narratives delineate two double binds. First, the presumably bottomless reservoir of care demanded from women places nurturance of students in tension with career advancement and other care responsibilities (e.g., self and family). Second, setting boundaries to caregiving may generate accusations of insensitivity, but boundless care can accommodate and encourage learned helplessness among students. The investigation concludes with suggestions to reform institutional policies and build student resilience that equips them to learn independently.

Author Biographies

Roy Schwartzman, North Carolina State University, USA

Roy Schwartzman (Ph.D., University of Iowa) is a professor in the Department of Communication and Co-Director of the Campus Writing and Speaking Program at North Carolina State University. His research areas include Holocaust and genocide studies, propaganda and persuasion, scholarship of teaching and learning, and communication of science and technology.

Jenni Simon, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Jenni M. Simon (Ph.D., University of Denver) is a senior lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Her research areas include gender, social movement rhetoric, critical media studies, and organizational communication.

Cynthia Zuckerman Hyman, North Carolina State University

Cynthia Zuckerman Hyman is a senior lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Advising in the Department of Communication at North Carolina State University. Her research interests include the communication of a stigmatized self, the social construction of identity and its implication for policy, and narrative frames around education and education policy.