The Professor’s Dilemma

A professor recently took to Reddit seeking advice on how to respond to students’ deeply personal and often heartbreaking stories in their assigned papers. The assignment asked students to apply psychological theories to their own lives, which led to several students opening up about past experiences of abuse and neglect.

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Professor Asks for Help on Reddit: How to Handle Heartbreaking Stories in Student Papers

The professor expressed empathy for the students but struggled to find the best way to respond and grade their papers without overstepping boundaries. Fellow educators and Reddit users chimed in, offering various perspectives and recommendations on how to navigate this sensitive situation.

Balancing Empathy and Professionalism

Several commenters agreed that acknowledging the student’s honesty and courage in sharing their experiences is important. They suggested responses such as “thank you for your honesty in sharing your experiences” and “I’m sorry that you went through that.”

One user recommended offering information about counseling services at the university, which could potentially help students who are still grappling with unresolved trauma. Another suggested including the phone number of the student counseling center and a respectful note encouraging the student to seek help if they felt ready.

Rethinking the Assignment

Some users questioned the appropriateness of the assignment itself. They felt that asking students to delve into their personal lives could be invasive and might cause emotional distress. One commenter suggested using fictional characters from films or books instead to achieve the same learning objectives.

Others shared their own experiences with similar assignments. One educator mentioned that they used to assign memoir essays but stopped due to the emotional toll it took on both the students and themselves. They recounted reading about abuse, death, suicide, and even murder, describing it as “too, too much.”

The Influence of Online Culture

One Reddit user pointed out that the online culture of sharing personal suffering, as seen on platforms like Reddit itself, may have influenced students’ expectations when it comes to their papers. They advised against rewarding this behavior in an academic setting.

As the conversation on Reddit unfolded, it became clear that educators face a delicate balance between empathy and professionalism when dealing with students’ personal struggles. This dilemma highlights the importance of re-evaluating assignments and finding ways to achieve learning objectives without jeopardizing the mental and emotional well-being of both students and educators.


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