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Do not ride your uni education, steer it

Lecturer Grant Meredith gives advice to Freshers on seeking support for stammering at university. Don't be afraid to assert yourself, he says.

The decision to jump into university study can be daunting for many people despite stammering. But for people who stammer, such a decision can be rife with anxieties revolving around predicted future speaking situations and social interactions. But you shouldn’t be a victim of predicted circumstance and I advise you to participate within the world of academia with confidence, strategies and a plan of action. Not only for your stammer, but also for your university life and career to come. 

Having a stammer myself, I have taught Information Technology in universities for almost 15 years and was for nearly four years an Associate Dean responsible for student retention and success. I have observed and guided the academic journeys of 1000s of students. I have also conducted a PhD study in the experiences of Australian university students who stammer. From all of these experiences I have a solid understanding of student diversity and individual needs. 

Going to student support services

Once you have begun university, class-based speaking requirements may be causing you stress and anxiety. Keep in mind that there will be support services at your chosen university to assist you and it will be your decision alone to access such services. But, if and when you do access such services then you need to be very firm with your intentions, needs and be ready to fully disclose your stammering. 

Commonly these departments are called 'disability' support services - under legislation, stammering can fit neatly into the definition of what a disability is. Regardless of whether you think your own stutter is a disability or not, you still may have to access support which outwardly advertises itself for disabilities. If you are wishing to seek support, then obviously your stammering is of such a concern to you that it is impeding at least your study life. 

Try and be confident and forward concerning your feelings of satisfaction and empowerment.

Once you make an appointment to see a support officer you should clearly have in your mind what is concerning you about your stammering, including the associated stressful class-based situations and importantly how you may wish to address them. In this situation you need to be firmly in control of your needs, while at the same time understanding that the university is obliged to only make 'reasonable' adjustments to how it can support you in your studies and assessments. The degree in which you are enrolled within will have inherit requirements and some of which may be very strictly guarded.  

When the support officer is discussing strategies with you, for example about how to conduct an oral examination or work in a team, you need to be open-minded and listen carefully to their suggestions. But, do not simply sit back and accept all that they suggest. I have studied over 100 Australian university students who stammer and the big message that came from them in terms of service provision was that generally they did not want to avoid speaking. They basically wanted to engage with class activities and oral-based assessments in a manner that made them feel more comfortable and empowered while stammering. Be open to giving your own suggestions, keeping in mind that there's a high possibility they may not have encountered many people who stammer seeking assistance. 

Us people who stammer often are very covert about our speech differences and often avoid asking for support or drawing attention to ourselves. But in this case, you need to be confident and forward concerning your feelings of satisfaction and empowerment in relation to offered support strategies. The next step will be putting these strategies into practice when required. 

With lecturers and tutors

Once in class you need to be forward in terms of engaging with your lecturer or tutor concerning your stammering. This can be daunting at first as you might not be used to openly disclosing your stammering to people and perhaps especially to those in authority. But try and be confident and forward. 

If you do not have a support plan, then you may want to just disclose your stammering to academic staff. Some people who stammer find this useful and others do not. If you do have some form of support plan in place, make the lecturer aware of it. Once in play these support provisions need to be implemented to the satisfaction of both you and the course requirements. So at times some further agreed refinement of them may be necessary. Again, keep an open mind and openly communicate with the academic staff about your progress and feelings concerning the situations that may worry you. 

In short, when embarking on your journey of self-discovery and academic enlightenment you need to be in control and be informed. You cannot afford to sit back and go with the flow at the expense of satisfyingly engaging with university life, embracing class activities and importantly the risk of getting lower grades by not asking for assistance. 

Grant Meredith is a Lecturer in Information Technology at the Federation University, Australia.

See also the Stammerers Through University Campaign (STUC)'s website. STUC is a network offering support for people at university.

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Tayo & Bhupinder
A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

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