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Pipatjarasgit ’21: The benefits and limitations of Dear Blueno for academic advising

Most Brown students active on Facebook know about Dear Blueno, where anonymous posts can be used for anything from political rants to trolling, from complaints about Brown to requests for relationship help. I have been responding on Dear Blueno since its founding in November 2018, primarily on academic questions and issues, and I have enjoyed doing so; I have learned a lot about the University during my time here, and I enjoy serving as a peer advisor and helping others whenever I can.

Every so often, Dear Blueno becomes flooded with academic advising questions, especially during pre-registration, the weeks preceding the start of the semester and shopping period. With spring semester pre-registration fast approaching, I hope that students understand the types of academic advising that Dear Blueno can be useful for, as well as when students would be better served by directly approaching an advisor.

As an academic advising platform, Dear Blueno’s format is primarily question and answer: The anonymous advisee asks a question in a public post, and an “advisor” — a peer (or sometimes a faculty member) who decides to give their perspective — answers it in a public comment. Dear Blueno can be useful for soliciting opinions about specific classes or faculty members. In other cases, students often turn to Dear Blueno because they are overwhelmed by the complexities of University bureaucracy and have no idea whom they should talk to about a certain issue; Dear Blueno is great in these situations where students feel completely lost.

However, it is important to remember that Dear Blueno is not capable of providing answers to all questions, and Brown’s academic advising should never be completely reliant on this platform; rather, students are supposed to be engaging in advising conversations with their advisors. There is rarely a full conversation with advisees on Dear Blueno because the only way to create a back-and-forth dialogue is for an advisee to submit a subsequent post if they wish to remain anonymous. Moreover, there are sometimes active debates and discussions among peer advisors, but on many posts, I am often the sole peer advisor to provide an answer. A single answer, whether from me or someone else, is not gold.

In my experience, one of the biggest advising problems on Dear Blueno is when students seek advice for a complex situation but are too vague in their explanation. For example, in a post from the weeks leading up to the fall 2020 semester where a student asks about good academic standing, there are many clarifying questions I would have to ask in order to give the student a proper answer. Has this student ever taken a reduced course load? How many enrollment units have been earned? How many credits did this student complete last semester? The student’s question is a difficult one to answer without this additional information, and while I would probably be capable of answering it if I had all of this context, this question is significantly more appropriate for a dean to answer, as it would likely involve reviewing the student’s internal academic record. Also, if a dean provides misinformation, students have recourse by going to the Committee on Academic Standing and directly placing blame on that dean. In an anonymous setting where advisors don’t know who their advisees are, there is also a risk of misunderstandings or oversimplifications from a lack of context. And “Because Poom said so on Dear Blueno…” will not help you if he didn’t fully understand your question or situation.

Of course, Dear Blueno is certainly capable of spurring helpful conversations outside of Facebook. I frequently receive private messages from peers who usually say they saw me active on Dear Blueno and are seeking advice. I am always happy to have longer advising conversations with peers who want to talk. Developmental advising can occur during such one-on-one conversations, but it is close to impossible to have any long-term, developmental advising directly on Dear Blueno.

Actual University advisors are also available to students, and in theory, they should be more available than ever. In recent years, Brown has made efforts to reduce regular faculty teaching loads to encourage faculty members to devote more time to advising. Deans in both the College and Student Support Services are also available on regular business days to advise students on academic issues; in all cases, students can contact the respective office to schedule an appointment, but the College also allows for self-scheduling. Moreover, advisors are not limited to faculty and administrators. Peer advisors can be trusted friends, other concentrators and student leaders; reaching out to them personally will allow those seeking advice to have an active dialogue about the issue in a way that would be most beneficial.

Pre-registration for the spring will be here in less than two weeks. Dear Blueno will likely be flooded with posts, but students should consider speaking to their advisors as well, especially for more complex situations. Students may also wish to speak to an advisor about making a decision on their location of study for the spring 2021 semester, which, like for the fall 2020 semester, students are forced to make in a short amount of time. In most cases, there can be much more done in the realm of advising beyond Dear Blueno. While it can certainly be a useful tool, I hope that students consult their chosen academic advisors beyond Dear Blueno, whether they are their official academic advisors, academic advising deans, student support deans or fellow students.

Poom Andrew Pipatjarasgit ’21 can be reached at poom_pipatjarasgit@brown.edu. If you submit an academic policy or advising question on Dear Blueno, it is likely that he will try to answer it. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.



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