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Boundary Setting in the New Academic Year

New Professionals and Graduate Students
August 30, 2022 Courtney L. Rufh

Have you ever felt that feeling when you’ve overshared or said maybe too much?  What about the feeling when someone seems to intentionally go against an expectation you’ve laid out pretty clearly?  Both of these instances are examples of ignoring boundaries.  I’m going to talk about setting boundaries and why they are important as we enter a new academic year.

In her workbook “The Set Boundaries Workbook,” author Nedra Glover Tawwab defines boundaries as “ways to communicate our needs to others via words and actions.”  I like this definition for a couple of reasons.  First, it is inclusive of many types of boundaries that we don’t often think of.  For instance, we often think of boundaries in terms of physical boundaries - “I don’t want to be hugged by strangers.”  However, boundaries can also refer to intellectual boundaries, emotional boundaries, or even time boundaries.  I also like that this definition emphasizes that setting boundaries requires communication.  After all, if we don’t communicate something is a boundary, how can we expect others to honor it?

Going into the new academic year, I have three goals when it comes to boundaries:

  1. Reflect.  If I don’t reflect on the last year and what went well and what didn’t, I won’t know what is important to me going into the new year.  You can either do some spontaneous reflection or work through the workbook I previously mentioned.  For me, I found when working through it that I had some pretty open boundaries with someone I supervised, which maybe wasn’t the best example to set for my relationships with the other employees I supervise.  This is definitely an area of growth for me as I transition to a new role.

  2. Practice radical acceptance.  This is something I learned from a mentor. It’s essentially “the ability to accept situations that are outside of your control without judging them, which in turn reduces the suffering that is caused by them.”  In other words, instead of beating yourself up about past decisions or lack of boundaries, you practice radical acceptance and say to yourself “I can’t change the things that have happened in the past.”  This way of thinking helps you not be so hard on yourself when reflecting on the past.

  3. Plan.  Doing work on boundary setting requires thinking about the past while practicing radical acceptance, but it also involves looking to the future about ways that you can set more clear boundaries that honor your needs.  For example, I want to be better about holding those I supervise accountable.  One way I plan to do this is having a conversation about what accountability should look like between each person I supervise and myself.  By getting this conversation out in the open, I will feel less guilt when it comes time to uphold this boundary.

I hope this has helped you to think about the importance of planning boundary setting as we enter a new academic year with new students, staff, and coworkers.  If you remember one thing, remember that boundary setting is not selfish and although you may feel some guilt around doing it, the practice will ultimately benefit all involved as it makes things more clear surrounding your relationship with others.



Author: Courtney L. Rufh (she/her/hers) serves as the Assistant Director of Engagement and Education in University Housing at Florida A&M University (FAMU) and is involved in the NASPA NPGS Steering Committee Leadership Team.  When not at work, she enjoys cuddling with her cat Henry and watching Pretty Little Liars.