Communal living and working arrangements can create tensions as well as conviviality and companionship. Students may be anxious about sharing living and sleeping space with a student whose behaviour they perceive to be odd or in some way difficult or antisocial. You may therefore need to allay the fears of other students, and also encourage them to be tolerant and supportive of their peers. This may have to be done particularly sensitively if a student has mental health problems but does not wish others to know about it.
You have a duty of care to the student experiencing the difficulties and a responsibility to offer them the opportunities for fieldwork that are available to other students, but you also have a duty of care and a responsibility to all other students, and occasionally you may find yourself unable to meet both sets of needs. If a situation cannot be resolved by minor alterations to the practical arrangements (for example, reorganising sleeping arrangements, or changing groups around for project work) you will need to trust your own judgement about the importance of supporting the student whose behaviour is causing problems, versus protecting other students who are being prevented from taking full advantage of the field course. It may be possible to seek advice from student services staff in your own institution by phone or email. In the worst case you may have to ask the student who is causing the problems to leave. In such circumstances, which are rare, it may be necessary for a member of staff or other responsible adult to accompany the student.
If any incident has occurred during the field course that has been particularly distressing to the student group, you may have to offer them some support. Listening, reassurance and sympathy is probably all that is possible or appropriate but it is important that you can give accurate information about the support services available to students at your institution once they return from the field. Again, if you feel out of your depth, try to contact your institution’s counselling or health service to ask for advice.
The section on Further Information includes a reference to a publication on duty of care issues.
Page updated 14 December 2001
GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock
© Geography Discipline Network/authors, 2001
ISBN: 1 86174 117 0