Manibo, Ong, Reparado SA 21 M
With the academic stress and rigor Ateneans experience every semester, or perhaps even everyday from their classes, it is but normal for an Atenean to reach his or her breaking point – a nervous breakdown. Apparently, it is not only academics-induced stress that Ateneans must mull over with and resolve, but also several other personal problems; may it be love life, family, career or friends. This drift, where we as Ateneans typically float in, can also be said to be true for any college student. Thus a college or a university must provide mental and emotional support for its students to stay sane and fully functional. This is the duty of the Guidance Office.
The LS Guidance Office is responsible for the mental well-being of Ateneans. Without it, or the mandatory guidance counseling sessions for the students, there will surely be a high rate of fatalities. Yes, we mean suicide. Suicide of students due to academe stress is a reality of life. It is a sad fact. There have been cases of suicide in the Ateneo before (though kept below the rug and was not sensationalized) and the burden to save bright young men (and women) from death has been placed on the shoulders of the Guidance Office and its legion of trustworthy counselors. The guidance office could be one of the most unheralded group of people in the campus since most students only see them once or twice a year (for a required interview). Most students would like to keep their personal problems to themselves or within their close knit of friends without actually seeking professional help to acknowledge and face those things that are troubling them.
The group was interested on how things worked out in the office of the noble life savers. The group was also interested to know what it felt like to do ordinary office work. The group also wanted to see how the counselors would treat the students and what tools or methods they would use for counseling since this is the primary objective of the office. Also, could there be secrets or unknown interesting facts about the office that could only be discovered by fully participating in its activities?
The group’s participant observation, however, has been limited in two ways. One is time constraint: the group only allowed themselves an hour for both observation and participation in the event. Second is observable activities: the group initially wanted to observe an actual counseling session, but due to the lack of actual sessions going on at the time the participant observation was conducted, the group had to settle at observing and interacting in the office in general. The group’s observations were divided into several categories and are as follows:
A student comes into the office roughly every 5-10 minutes. Once inside the office, the student is quite unsure of what to do exactly, whether to approach the nearby receptionist or to sit down in the soft couches and wait to be noticed. It was usually the warm smile or the gentle “Yes?” of the receptionist that entices the students to initiate the talk. If, however, the student was not attended to or noticed within a short period of time, most often than not, the student left the office. Also, there were times when the student thought that there was a long queue, because of the observers sitting on the couches. Usually the student backtracked and left the office, thinking he would have to wait long before his business with the counselors were attended to. The group’s final observation about the students was that these students went to the office primarily because of some requirement like the observers. Their faces show a blank expression and anyone can tell that they are not looking forward to the counseling session since it was only required and could, in fact, be interfering with the other activities they had planned or wanted to do. The “clients” are mostly scholars rendering their service hours, scheduling their required counseling session for the semester or actually having their scheduled session (mostly individual, though there were available group sessions). A striking observation of the group was that there were no students who came into the office out of the need to de-stress, unwind or find solace. Many, if not all, came to the office purely out of academic requirements.
In line with this observation, James, a member of the observing group, recounts an event by the Guidance Office he once attended. The event, which was a celebration for the 60 or so years of the LS Psychology Department, was one way for the Guidance Office to reach out to the Loyola Schools community, according to the emcee of the event. In short, it was a marketing ploy. Therefore, the guidance department is very much aware of this disconnection of the students and has been trying to bridge the gap ever since. But it seems that there is minimal to no change at all despite their efforts.
Each one of the personnel of the office has a specific task, and their work distribution resembled an assembly line: passing a student or “client” from one station to the other. With this, the group observed that there were no overlapping jobs for the counselors and non-counselors, thus there was little opportunity for them to actually have friendly interactions. They were focused solely on the jobs that need to be done for the day. The staff that the group was able to talk to first were the receptionists and those in charge of paperwork duties. The actual counselors were secluded within their respective rooms, hidden from the view of the observers until the receptionists call for their name in order to conduct a counseling session. Some were not present at all in the office in the entire duration of the participant observation. Another factor is that the office cubicles are quite distant from each other. The possible ways the personnel can interact are through the assignment of new tasks or by passing by to inquire about the scheduled counseling sessions. On the occasion that personnel do interact, they seemed to be close friends, at least according to the group’s impression.
There was not much activity going on inside the office aside from the staff working on their computers and several counselors organizing their counseling materials. The group, however, was not able to observe the heart of the guidance office which is the student counseling. The group, nonetheless, had access to the bibliographical therapy room, wherein the group was given the task to complete the list of books inside the room. After the task was done, the guidance counselors allowed the group to indulge in the counseling paraphernalia displayed in the room. The books were particularly interesting, ranging from Renaissance books such as The Prince by Niccolo Macchiavelli to the psychoanalytic and dream interpretation books by Sigmund Freud. Even spiritual books such as the Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius of Loyola were present! Familiar toys and board games such as Jenga and Pictionary were also among the array of counseling materials found in there. The group was able to identify that one method of counseling the LS counselors use is giving the student the liberty to either read the variety of books present in the room and/or play with the different toys scattered around the area. The selection of books and toys inside the room is, interestingly, up to date to the taste of today’s teenagers. This is a reflection of the fact that the guidance office knew what books the students were interested in and had a sense of the trends present today.
The office ambience, in general, was calming and soothing. The dynamics of quietness, running water from the office’s small fountain, and soft OPM music filled the room. The group agreed that the uncanny dynamics of sound resulted to a rather sleep-inducing atmosphere inside the guidance office. Also, despite being allowed by the accommodating staff of the office to observe, the observers felt awkward, apprehensive and out-of-place. This is because the group was not able to fully participate in the real work done inside a guidance office such as student counseling and processing, as previously mentioned. At times, the deadening “silence” of the personnel and even the observers themselves led to the awkwardness. The awkwardness could also have been the result of the uncertainty whether the group was really welcome inside the premises of the office for observation, seeing that one of the staff was still unsure of the observers’ objectives for being there.
As the group left the office, it cannot be denied that the group was able to gain valuable insight and practical knowledge about the school’s counselors and their realm. Again though, the participant observation could have been more relevant both to the observers and perhaps the student body if only the group was able to take part and observe in at least one actual counseling session. Despite limited observations gathered by the group, several significant learning surfaced. One is the ambiguous perception of students to the functions of the guidance office, especially in their everyday lives. For the students, a trip to the guidance office is merely a non-academic requirement that takes up an hour and a half of their “valuable time.” Hopefully, students will soon realize the importance of “letting it all out” to someone willing to listen and advise them emotionally and even spiritually about the burdens of being an adolescent and a college student.
Answer to questions:
What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
Participation allowed us to experience office work in the guidance office. In contrast with merely observing, where we can just infer on the causes of the behavior of the staff, participation gives us a clearer grasp on the event. Certain misconceptions can occur when we only take into account what we see on the surface. There are certain things that we cannot comprehend when we do not fully undergo the experience that these people are in. Things that could not be taken into account of in observation such as emotions, psychological state, physiological state, and other external factors such as time are noted in participant observation. It allows us to understand how the personnel from one of the lesser popular offices in the campus deal with everyday life in the guidance office and thus create more informed observations.
What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
Much like the host family to the fieldworkers in Barbados, the key informant, primarily, is there to introduce the observers to the event of participation. He is there to provide basic knowledge about the event, such as regular office operations and the office staff. The key informant also answers fieldworkers’ questions that were not attended to by mere participation (time constraint may have played a huge role here). Seeing that at the time of participation there were minimal operations inside the office, the observers lacked the knowledge of the duties of the staff during those times. The key informant is there to be interviewed about curious topics such as the aforementioned.
What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
Participant observation allows observers to experience first-hand the activities of a certain event. Unlike a survey questionnaire or an interview (both of which are secondary sources), participant observation is not prone to false responses because the observers themselves know the ins and outs of the events through taking part in the activities. Participant observation may also includes the psychological state of participants that may influence their behavior during the event, something that is not taken into account by questionnaires or interviews. The questions posed by these two other methods may be limited and not fully encompass the information that may be drawn from participation. Also, the questionnaire cannot take into account how the respondent acts freely within his/her environment. In an interview, interviewees may have constraints in sharing their thoughts in order to stick with the question.
For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
One of the dangers of participant observation is that the observers may only take into account certain observations that they need for their claim or desired result, something called observer bias. In this event for example, we expected the guidance office to be a soothing and calm place for students to feel light despite the burdens of schoolwork. We might only have taken notice then of soothing things such as the running water, the spotless floor, and the cheerful expressions of the staff. Another danger of participant observation is that the people that were observed may have been influence by the presence of us, the observers; thus they may act unnaturally and instead aim for social desirability — this is called the observer effect. As mentioned, our key informant was somehow hesitant when we asked him permission to take part in student work in the office (like how scholars work there) without anything in return. There is also the question of ethics when conducting participant observations. The one being observed may think that the observants are deceiving them since those people are not naturally immersed in those situations. When asked about the true purpose of the research, the observants may feel the need to lie against them in order to keep the research intact. These dangers are not present in secondary sources such as questionnaires and interviews.