In an e-mail to the Wesleyan Parent Listserv, one mother complained about her son’s adjustment to college, and then added that his girlfriend back home was going to make the situation even harder. In true listserv fashion, another parent added her two cents.
“And for what it’s worth, I agree that the girlfriend may make things more difficult, but what can you do?” the other mother wrote.
A popular method of communication, the Parent Listserv has become a place for complaints, questions, and advice for a handful of parents since its inception in July 2003.
The listserv has not been exempt from the misinformation and conjecture that sometimes appear in electronic communities, causing some to question its usefulness. Others have wondered if the forum encourages “helicopter parents,” questioning its effectiveness in facilitating a student’s transition to independence in college.
Although only a small percentage of parents actually post e-mails, many refer to the listserv to stay informed on campus life. The forum, which is moderated by members of the Office of Parent Programs and Development, currently has over 900 subscribers.
“It helps connect parents as peers, which, in turn, builds a community,” said Meg Zocco, Director of Parent Programs and Development at the University. “It’s very rare to have such a resource at a small liberal arts college. I have yet to identify the same open practice at any other school.”
Zocco believes that the listserv channels the energies and interests of parents, resulting in a productive mode of communication within the University community. Some students agree.
“The listserv is helpful for parents because it gives them an idea of what’s happening on campus,” said Paul Edwards ’09. “Parents get answers without breathing down their kids’ necks.”
Talia Bernstein ’11 explained that the listserv’s ability to connect parents from far-reaching parts of the world is one of its most attractive qualities.
“Hardly anyone in my hometown goes to Wesleyan, so it was helpful for my parents to talk to other people who have been in similar situations,” Bernstein said. “I can definitely see how it’s beneficial for parents to have access to the listserv. It makes the transition easier, and, in my case, alleviated the feeling of an empty nest.”
But despite her support of the listserv’s intentions, Bernstein does question whether the listserv serves its intended purpose.
“I can’t help but to think that in the grand scheme of things, our parents are going to Wesleyan vicariously through us,” she said.
From Sept. 4 to 7, the Parent Listserv generated over 160 e-mails, regarding everything from facing long lines at Usdan to finding a local dentist. With threads titled “A Report From the Front: Dining Hall Disaster” and “Feeding Our Kids at Wesleyan,” some believe that the listserv is becoming an outlet for “helicopter parents.”
“The idea of keeping parents informed and in-the-know is important, but there is a line of privacy that can be crossed when parents intervene in trivial matters that students can handle by themselves,” said Dani St. Pierre ’11. “The listserv should allow parents to feel like they’re a part of their kid’s Wesleyan experience without overstepping certain boundaries.”
In a Sept. 7 listserv e-mail, one parent agreed.
“Let the kids deal with long lines and class schedules on their own. You might be surprised how smart they really are.”
Zocco admits that some parents go beyond the intended purpose of the site, especially when subtle themes of dissent arise.
“There’s often much commentary and frustration; parents look like they want to take over,” she said. “Parents of this generation are very, very involved in their kids’ lives. Not to say that’s bad, but I sometimes find parents overreact with issues that their kids resolve in fifteen minutes.”
Having an open listserv, which Zocco reveals colleges are often too hesitant to create due to its immediacy and exposure, is unique to the University. This 24/7 venue in which parents can share their thoughts with nearly 1,000 people, has both its ups and downs.
“Sometimes the parents get a bit out of control, but, overall, I think it’s a valuable source of information. The program is a cutting edge concept that more schools will need to implement in the future; we’re ahead of the curve,” said Zocco.
As parents discuss ways to mitigate the dining situation, with some suggesting the resurrection of MoCon, and others requesting that parents e-mail Dean Rick Culliton with their complaints, many students question the intent of this site.
“A crucial part of the college experience is a student’s separation from his or her parents,” said Ameen Beydoun ’11. “Unfortunately, this medium does not give students that freedom. At some point parents just need to completely let go.”
With parents wholly concerned about their child’s educational experience, it becomes clear that interest and near-obsession characterize two very different mindsets of the typical Wesleyan parent.
Although the listserv provides insight into the everyday lives of students, some believe it perpetuates the adolescent behavior that students lose with their growing independence.
“Parents need to let kids live their own lives,” said J.P. Valette ’10.
Although the listserv appears to be a popular source of campus
information, one parent offers another alternative.
“This year’s Wesleyan Argus…is now online. It’s a great resource for keeping you informed…and getting news that your child might not share with you.”