Message Intended is Not Message Received: Shame, Stigma, and Disengagement in the Academic Probation Notification Process

Colloquium | April 25 | 12:10-1:15 p.m. | 5101 Tolman Hall

 Shannon Brady, Postdoctoral Scholar, Stanford University

 Institute of Personality and Social Research

An important institutional and societal dilemma is how to notify people when they are not meeting performance or community standards without undermining their motivation and efforts to do so. Focusing on the context of college students being placed on academic probation, I find that college administrators overwhelmingly intend probation to be helpful to and motivating for students but that students do not readily interpret these positive purposes from typical probation notification letters. Rather, typical probation notification letters elicit high levels of shame and concern about stigmatization from students, which may thwart their recovery to good academic standing. This is not inevitable, however: probation notification letters designed intentionally to address students’ concerns about belonging and devaluation—what I call psychologically attuned notification letters—can reduce students’ feelings of shame and concern about stigmatization, help them stay engaged, and support their academic recovery. I will describe the original development and test of these psychologically attuned notification letters at one college and share early results from a multi-site trial currently underway.

 ipsr@berkeley.edu, 510-642-5050