The issue of confidentiality is always a tough one. When should I maintain confidentiality? When should I breach someone’s trust? Knowing what to do when can be a balancing act for a residence life student staff member.

Here are several confidentiality considerations to keep in mind this year:

Never make promises that you aren’t positive you can keep.

  • Think about it… it’s not unusual for someone to start a serious conversation with a sentiment such as, “Can you keep a secret?” or “Promise me you won’t tell anyone….”
  • It’s really important that you don’t guarantee a promise in this regard. You can’t be certain that you aren’t going to need to share critical information with a supervisor or another campus professional.
  • By telling residents that you are sorry but you can’t promise to maintain confidentiality, you’re still being trustworthy — right from the very beginning of an interaction.
  • This doesn’t mean that people won’t come to you with critical information. When someone really needs help, they’ll be looking to you for guidance.

It’s really easy to get sucked in.

  • When someone needs your help, it feels good, right? As a helper, you’ll feel like you’re making a difference.
  • For some staffers, they let their “helper ego” get the best of them and before they know it….they’ve been sucked in!
  • As a residence life student staff member, you are a referral agent — it’s your job to refer people to the resources they need. It’s not your job to be the ultimate helper.
  • There will be times when you can offer easy fixes or solutions. That’s great! But there will be other times when you are going to need to go to a supervisor or another campus professional for help in supporting a resident.

Respect the information shared with you.

  • Just because we’re advocating not promising confidentiality, it doesn’t mean we are suggesting that you can share your residents’ deepest thoughts with just anyone.
  • Your supervisor or another appropriate campus professional are always okay to go to with critical information.
  • Gossiping with your friends or some of your residents isn’t going to be helpful.
  • Figuring out an action plan with those who are equipped to handle the tough stuff will be helpful.
  • It’s quite likely that your gut will tell you when you need to share information presented to you. If you’re really unsure about this, talk with your supervisor now about what you are expected to share.

Find other training tools like this in our Residence Life Training Package: Tools, Strategies & Activities for Staff Training & Development.