New ombudsperson will provide an impartial forum where students can discuss their concerns and issues.

The MGH Institute has added to its menu of providing students with the tools to successfully graduate by naming the school’s inaugural ombudsperson.

For Patricia Lussier-Duynstee, being tapped to take on the role is in many ways a continuation of what she did in her previous position as assistant dean for academic affairs in the School of Nursing. Focused on academic support services and processes, she would talk through students’ concerns about grades, issues that were bothering them, and even personal situations – all things that would prevent them from concentrating on their studies and clinical placements. She will take that same approach to students in all the IHP’s academic programs, using a request form to book students for virtual sessions.

“The idea of being an ombuds fits with what I really loved about my job as assistant dean because it has a lot of the same components,” said Dr. Lussier-Duynstee, who retired in 2020 with emerita status after an 18-year teaching career at the IHP. “Being an ombuds means that they have somebody they can talk to, someone who can really hear them. We can look at the process, talk about what happened and why it happened, and I can point them to other resources if they  want to gain more information. And they can come to me without worrying because it’s completely confidential.”

Jack Gormley, dean of student services in the Office of Student Affairs and Services (OSAS), noted that while faculty advisors, academic support staff, and staff in the Office of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and the Student Assistant Program often can – and do – assist students, they often don’t have the conflict resolution skills students need to best navigate thorny issues.

“It’s a very specialized skill set, and you really need someone who is able to proactively decelerate a situation and calmy redirect things towards solving an issue,” said Dr. Gormley. “We envision the ombuds program to be one more extension of support for students who are in a crisis or just not sure what to do, where they can be very candid. And by not being aligned with any one department or program, Pat can provide them with independent and impartial guidance and advice.”

Woman looking into the camera
“Fair doesn't always mean that everybody gets the same thing. But it means that everybody gets what they need,” says ombudsperson Dr. Patricia Lussier-Duynstee.

Luella Benn, the director of accessibility resources and wellness in OSAS, noted the potential conflict that exists as another reason for creating the ombuds position.

“There’s an inherent power differential between a graduate student and a faculty or staff member where you're hoping to earn a degree  and a student might not want to speak to them or even talk to another student,” said Benn. “Students will say to me all the time, ‘I don't want to stir the pot. I don't want to do this,’ but they're looking for advisement and how to move forward. This position will allow them to do that.”

Lussier-Duynstee, who joined the International Ombuds Association, has hosted virtual meetings with students as well as faculty members, the latter whom she said are a key component of making the position a success. Those sessions will continue throughout the fall semester as new students join the ranks of those returning. Two sessions at Noon and 3 p.m. will be held  September 13 during OSAS Student Welcome Week.

While she hopes to make a difference in the lives of many students, her advisory role does not include decision-making powers. And, recalling her time in the School of Nursing, she noted that not every interaction resulted in complete satisfaction.

“Sometimes students didn’t get the outcome they were hoping to get because the evidence just wasn’t there,” she said. “But it’s the process of going through talking with them and listening to what went on, which can help them understand things. I think if there's any philosophy that I have had throughout my professional life, is that fair doesn't always mean that everybody gets the same thing,” she added. “But it means that everybody gets what they need.”

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