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a Life: Transitions Toward Self-Authorship
A Facilitator Guide for
SENIORS: FOUR YEARS IN RETROSPECT
By: Susan R. Komives and Scott C. Brown
This Guide is designed to help facilitators use Seniors in a variety of institutional settings. Possible applications include:
Student Life and Curricular Programs
Faculty and Staff Training
I. Background to Seniors
In the fall of 1990, filmmakers Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller moved into a freshman residence hall at Stanford with their cameras. Their video, FROSH, follows nine students through their freshman year from move-in day to spring final examinations.
Three years later, the filmmakers picked up the stories of five of these students and began shooting again. Their new film, Seniors, chronicles the different trajectories each of these students took to graduation. Honest and frank, it shows students grappling with transitions – sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Ultimately, all find their own path to a successful and fulfilling college experience and into adulthood. The film interweaves cinema verite-style scenes from freshman and senior year with thoughtful interviews where the students look back at their four years in school.
They reflect on the challenges and obstacles they faced: developing study skills; difficulties choosing a major; seeking a fit with Greek and other campus organizations, and work-study jobs; finding a voice in student leadership positions. They are seen negotiating thorny issues of gender, race and identity as well as personal relationship; at the end, they wrestle with career and graduate school goals. We watch as these students mature and come to a more thorough understanding of themselves, especially with respect to their present college environment and future objectives. In short, we see each constructing a life.
II. Seniors Character Summary
Monique - An African American woman who left behind a crack addicted mother to come to Stanford on full scholarship, Monique struggles with motivation and almost drops out freshman year. But supported by significant African American staff and peers, she gets a mentor, takes stock and redirects her life. Her direct, candid, blunt manner helps her confront things as she sees them. Monique finds direction and purpose, graduates with honors, and is led to graduate school and a career in teaching.
Debbie - A white student from Connecticut, Debbie enters Stanford filled with naiveté and self-doubt. She pledges a sorority, flunks chemistry, and washes out of pre-med. She switches to women’s studies and begins to see complexity in relationships and her own life. Gaining self-confidence, Debbie reassesses her friendships, goals and direction, resigns from her sorority, eventually comes full circle and goes on to a prestigious medical school.
Cheng - A first generation Chinese-American from Ohio, Cheng’s self-concept is threatened when he no longer earns all A’s. He places high, yet narrow expectations on himself, seeing college as instrumental to career goals, and suffers acute academic and career pressures. His conservative outlook leads lead him to found a student economic policy group as a support base. We follow Cheng as he sweats out his job interviews and his eventual job choices.
Sam - A white male who enters Stanford from a protected all-boys Catholic school experience in New Jersey, Sam speaks openly about his insecurities. He desperately seeks a girlfriend and desires to fit in. A self-described "jock," Sam becomes assistant manager of the basketball team and begins to find a safe and secure niche for himself within a more pluralistic and feminist environment. By senior year, Sam has it all: he’s the relaxed president of his fraternity, manager of the basketball team, and has a girlfriend. But how open is he to an examined life?
Brandi - As an African American woman who grew up in a predominately white mid-western community, Brandi explores her personal identity through immersion in African American studies. But her new identity development leaves her struggling for career direction and life purpose so she stops out just prior to graduation and works in a mall. Her renewed purpose is evident in her mature reflections of her new goals when she returns to graduate.
(NOTE: Viewers should note that while the five students are diverse in gender and ethnicity, all are traditional-age residential students enrolled full-time at a highly selective private university. They may not reflect the transfer student, part-time, commuter or older adult student experience.)
III. About Stanford
Viewers should consider how Stanford as an educational and cultural institution compares to their own campus. While there are dramatic differences, there are remarkable similarities common to all students’ experiences.
Stanford is a selective private research university of some 6,500 undergraduates (and 6,000 graduate students) located in Palo Alto, just south of San Francisco. Most entering freshmen graduated in the top 10% of their high school classes and are a diverse group. In Seniors’ freshman class, 55% were men and 45% women; 25% were Asian American, 10% Latino, 8% African American and 2% Native American.
Stanford’s annual tuition, room and board has now reached $30,000 but two-thirds of entering freshmen get some kind of aid and several students featured in the video were heavily subsidized.
All freshmen live on campus. The initial setting of this video is a small, coed hall of 80 residents representative of the demographic composition of their class. Hall staff included four R.A.s and a married couple who served as resident fellows. Most students move off campus as upperclassmen, and at least one of the Seniors reflects the commuter experience. While most students graduate in four years, one student in Seniors, Brandi, did drop out.
IV. Preview Seniors & Plan Session
Due to the many ways Seniors can be used, facilitators should preview the video to identify themes that meet their specific learning goals. Make particular note of the video counter numbers so you can return to key scenes during the group discussion. This discussion guide includes brief comments on transition theory, discussion questions, references to key segments of the video, and a brief character analysis. If you have a longer training time, we encourage you to preview FROSH also and consider its possible use preceding Seniors. Running time for Seniors is 60 minutes.
Seniors consists of case studies of five students. After a brief introduction, each student is profiled in turn.
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I. Pre-Screening Activities: Setting the Context
For upperclassmen and staff: Ask them to draw a time-line of their college experience from enrollment to graduation, noting key events and decision points. Or have them note key decision points on separate notecards and then work as a group to cluster them into time-sequenced categories.
Next, lead a group discussion asking such questions as "Looking back at your college experience, how have you changed, and why? What were key transitions? What advice would you give incoming students to help them best capitalize on their college experience?"
For freshmen: As a group exercise, brainstorm ten potential issues/decisions of consequence students might realistically face during the next four years. Write down the list on the blackboard and flesh out, but don’t discuss in detail now.
II. Critical Viewing of Seniors
Invite participants to make a list as they watch the video of the events, issues, or decision points faced by each character. Compare this list to their own lists generated in the Pre-Screening Activities (above). Ask participants to pay special attention to how each student confronted his or her issues and whether their self-definitions changed as they did so.
III. Post-Screening: A Transitions Model
Seniors opens a unique window on adult transitions and how students adjust to life changes. Transition theory generally concerns the exiting of some role, place, or way-of-being to adopt, adjust to, or assume a new role, place, or circumstance. Some authors (Chickering & Schlossberg, 1995; Louis, 1980) have aptly described the cycle as a process of moving-in, moving-through, and moving-out. Each of these three stages brings its own tasks, issues, and challenges. This transition model can be applied to personal relationships, a change of status (such as from student to worker), a job change, even stages of parenting.
The sequence of coming to college, moving through the experience, to graduating and moving on, is a transition cycle. Schlossberg’s "Four S" model: Situation, Support, Self, and Strategies will help students understand the concept of transitions. Schlossberg (1984) describes the transition cycle as the dynamic interaction between the individual and his or her unique characteristics (self); the transition and its characteristics (situation); the environment with options and social support systems (support); and the coping strategies available (strategies).
Analyzing transitions in terms of each of these elements will help students better negotiate the stages of matriculation through college from one adaptive process to the next and on to professional or graduate education, a job, and relationships. [See Chickering and Schlossberg, 1995; Schlossberg, 1984; Schlossberg, Waters & Goodman, 1995.]
Moving-In is the process of leaving one known context behind and entering into an exciting, albeit scary, new one. This may be triggered by choice (e.g. taking a new job, accepting a leadership role, starting college) or involuntarily (e.g. the loss of a significant other, being laid-off). For students, moving-in starts a process of transition, where they will assume new roles, routines, relationships, and find themselves in the new setting of college. To manage change successfully, students can take stock with the four S’s: Situation, Support, Self, and Strategies.
b) What support role does the family play in Seniors? Compare Monique, Cheng and Brandi.
c) At different points, each of the students felt they were heading down a wrong path but most had support in school. Discuss the support given Monique by her friends, her residence dean and her job at the Haas Center. What sorts of safety- nets and lifelines are available to you, both formal and informal? Which ones are most effective? Ineffective? How do you get reluctant people to listen?
d) Have you ever tried to deter a student from self-defeating behaviors? What did you do? Did it work? Why or why not?
Self: a) How did you feel when you headed off to college? Excited?
Anxious? Overwhelmed? Hopeful? In control? In denial? How have you coped
with other transition points in your life or college experiences (upperclassmen
and staff should refer to items on their Pre-Screening Activity lists)?
Strategies: a) What initial adjustment strategies do you usually employ
when you find yourself in new and unfamiliar circumstances (e.g. hang
back and observe, seek out a sage, find a friend, do advance research,
etc.)? What strategies did you think would be needed moving into and
After Moving-In to a new experience, the process of adjustment and managing day-to-day begins. A specific "Moving-Through" process might be short (e.g. a two week institute), it might be longer (e.g. four years of college) or it might be a life time task (e.g. marriage or being an adult child of your parents). After the initial Moving-In adjustment cycle, Moving-Through college consists of many tasks: deciding on a major; maximizing learning both inside and outside the classroom; test-taking; and time management. The Moving-Through process for traditional-age students also includes various psycho-social tasks such as developing mature relationships, negotiating class, gender and racial differences, and finding one’s place in the community. Again, the "Four S" Model can help you identity and assess the challenges of Moving-Through.
The concept of Moving-Out is centered around the question "Where do I go from here?" - in this case, the process of exiting the college experience. Moving-Out ends one cycle (e.g. graduation from college) but it also begins another because it implies a moving-in to something new (e.g. starting graduate school or a new job). This Moving-Out process raises new questions. In what ways were students encouraged to reflect on their experience? In what ways were students encouraged to integrate their experiences? In what ways were students provided closure on their college experience? In what ways were students assisted in the transition from college? (see Gardner & Van der Veer, 1998). Viewers should examine these issues for the senior/post-graduate transition and try to apply these models to other life transitions (e.g. into parenthood, new careers, onset of a disability).
Chickering, A. W. & Reisser, L. (1993). Education and Identity (rev. ed). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Chickering, A. W. & Schlossberg, N. K. (1995). Getting the Most Out of College. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Gardner, J. N. & Van der Veer, G. (Eds.) (1998). The Senior Year Experience: Facilitating Integration, Reflection, Transition, and Closure. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Louis, M. R. (1980). "Surprise and Sense Making: What Newcomers Experience in Entering Unfamiliar Organizational Settings." Administrative Science Quarterly, 25, 226-251.
Schlossberg, N. K. (1984). Counseling Adults in Transition. New York : Springer.
Schlossberg, N. K., Waters, E. B., & Goodman, J. (1995). Counseling Adults in transition : Linking Practice with Theory (2nd ed. ). New York : Springer.
Seniors produced and directed by:
Facilitator Guide written by:
For additional copies of Seniors, the Guide, or other videos for student life, contact:
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