Meet the Student Advocate

Chisella: Hello everyone, welcome to another episode of the Student Affairs podcast series! My name is Cishella Durling and I am here with Sam Mackenzie, who is the Student Advocate in the Dean of Students Office. So, I'm really excited to talk with Sam today as she is going to give us a lot of insight into what the Student Advocate is. So, that's my first question for you, Sam, what is the Student Advocate?

Samantha: So, like you said, my name is Sam Mackenzie, I'm in the Dean of Students office here at UofL and yeah, my title, Student Advocate. What that means is pretty much anything. My goal is to help students navigate any educational, personal, just any obstacles that might come up that prevents them from graduating, getting through the semester, whatever that looks like. You know, my goal is really just to talk through that with students, get them connected with the appropriate resources -- making sure whether it's university or campus connections, whatever that looks like, and then working with them to help coach them on self-advocacy, or help them advocate, or advocate on their behalf to faculty and staff and whatever that ends up looking like. So, it is hard to kind of say specifically what it is because it just depends on every single student’s unique situation. And then, even if it's the same situation, one student needs one thing and a student in the same situation needs something else, so that that's kind of my job is to help figure out what that is.

Chisella: Well, that's fantastic. What would be some common reasons a student might seek help from the student advocate?

Samantha: Probably anything and everything. I think because there's so many things that have come up through the years. But I think typically the situations I see the most are students who have just had extenuating circumstances during the semester. And so, they might need an incomplete in a course, or do a compassionate withdrawal. Incompletes, the professor has to approve it, but I help the student with navigating that conversation. Compassionate withdrawal it's not the easiest of processes here, and so my job is to just walk a student through that, make it as simple and as easy as possible. And along with that comes tuition refund scholarship, leave of absence, all those other pieces as well that that go with that.

A lot of times it’s absence notifications or professor notifications, so you know student might be hospitalized or you know they lost a family member, and so, they’re at a funeral, whatever that looks like, we can always send those observations to professors. It's it is just a notification. Ultimately, the professor kind of has the discretion as to whether or not to excuse it, but they know we asked for documentation. They know that we're working with students and so a lot of times professors are pretty responsive to that.

We also do professor notifications, which not much of a difference other than that it's not necessarily a specific date a student has missed, but it could be just a situation that's going on that’s really affecting them over a course of the semester. So, it could be that they have a parent who's ill or I’ve had students who might be going through a court case, which is never a brief process. So, kind of communicating that to the professor so they know what's going on and asking them to work with the student in whatever way they are able to.

I also oversee the student complaint process/complaint log for the university. So, what that means is I don't solve the complaints, but the complaints come to me. I'm logging them and then I'm basically getting them to the person who does have oversight of the area, the professor, whatever that looks like, for response, and then making sure that there is a response, even though it may not always be what the student wants. But facilitating that process and using that information to help. There are trends, inform offices and departments and use that. We've had some success in using that information to help with some situations. We won’t go into details, but it's been very useful.

I also work with students who are either pregnant or have recently become parents on Title 9 and pregnancy policy accommodations. So, under Title 9, institutions have to provide adjustments and accommodations. And we have a policy or student pregnancy policy here at the UofL and under that we have to do the same. So, a lot of that is just working with the student, communicating with the professor, helping them navigate that process. And those were kind of the specific things, but other than that, it's just referring to resources here at UofL or in the community, kind of navigating policies. I mean, let's face it, there's so many different policies and so many different things. So, a lot of times it's just finding the right person to ask the questions too and communicating that, and just anything general. I do a lot of a lot of referrals to other places and offices, and my goal is just to … so, I'm not going to be the last stop you go to. My goal is to be the second to last stop because I'll get you to the right person.

Chisella: That's fantastic. And I know you do a lot of wonderful work helping those students get the resources that they need in order to be successful here at the university during their entire experience as a student, but even just holistically, as an individual. So, what would be the process for a student to get help from the student advocate?

Samantha: My office is physically located in the Dean of Students office, so that's on the third floor of the Student Activities Center, basically, right above Chick-fil-A on the third floor. And our office is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 to 5:00 and so you can walk in. I will say my scheduled can kind of be all over the place, so I may not be available, but get your information and schedule an appointment. But you absolutely also do not have to walk in. You can email. You can call, our phone number is (502) 852-5787 or you can email or and get connected. And one thing I will say is while I'm the only student advocate per say as far as title, everyone in the Dean of Students Office is cross trained on all of our jobs. So, you know, we have our care manager, we have our conduct, folks, we have a variety of different roles. But we're all cross trained. So, you may come in, I'm not available, our care manager may not be available, and you might feel like ‘why am I talking with a student conduct person?’. Because we're cross trained and they also have the ability to do a lot of the same stuff. So, even though -- I always like to put that out there because then people are like, wait a minute, how did I end up talking to this person? But at the end of the day, we want to get students, we want to be able to support them and help them. And that sometimes means I'm not available and so pretty much all the staff here, all the staff here are wonderful and are able to help. So don't let the titles or anything like that freak you out. They know what they're doing.

Chisella: Definitely! So, as the student advocate. What piece of advice would you give to a student in need?

Samantha: So I think two things come to mind. I think first you know, don't be afraid to ask for help. I know that's scary, especially because the answer may be we can't do anything. But if you don't ask, you'll never know. And believe it or not, we've seen a lot of things in our office. I've been in this role seven years, so more than likely, I have dealt with something similar to the situation that our student is facing and have some idea on how to help with that; doesn't mean there aren't new things that come up. But for the most part, have an idea of how we can kind of proceed and handle things, so don't be afraid to ask for help.

But with that is also, just know that at the end of the day, I can only really advocate. I don't oversee any policies or anything like that. So, a lot of times I am having to refer out or, ultimately the answer may be we can't do anything about that. That's not because I don't care and I'm not trying to help, it's just unfortunately that's not something that I have control over. But at the very least, I want to make sure you feel like you're being heard. I can document that information and pass it along to somebody who might be able to do something about it. So please know that if that happens, it's not me turning you away. I promise, I'm listening. I promise I'm taking that information to the right people.

And then kind of the other piece is, don't be afraid to self-advocate. I think a lot of people, that's probably one of the number one things I see with college students, is they just don't know how to advocate for themselves and it's really a skill that you have to learn; it's not something that comes naturally to people, so it's scary. And so sometimes the student will reach out and say, ‘hey, I need this …’ and my response is going to be cool, talk with the professor. And that's not me pushing it off, what I want to do is, I want to help you kind of develop that skill. So, talk with the professor, but I want to help you figure out how to do that. If you want to have a conversation on the best way to say something or word it or approach it, I can absolutely do that. So that's kind of part of that too, is helping to teach those skills.

And probably one other bit of advice, just because I've lots of advice apparently. Let's just remember that, at the end of the day, whoever you're dealing with is also a person and are dealing with emotions and concerns and stress, you know. Especially during the pandemic, I heard a lot of students, you know, they were frustrated about situations and, at the end of the day, the people on the other side are human as well. And so, absolutely stand up for yourself. Express your needs but do it in a way that's respectful of them as a human.

And especially, because one thing I see often with students is they will kind of stand up for themselves, but they may not do it in the best way. And so, they end up not getting the results that they want. So, for example, if you didn't turn in an assignment in on time, probably not the best idea to email you professor saying, ‘I need you to let me take this or turn this in late.’ or you know, ‘It's not my fault. I had to work, and I had two exams and I didn't get to this.’. That's not going to go over well. So again, part of what I can do is help you figure out how to word that, and so then maybe it's something like ‘I'm sorry for not turning in the assignment on time. I know it's not an excuse, but I had work and another exam and I got overwhelmed. So, I know there's a penalty for turning in late, and I understand that, but I wanted to make sure you knew I didn't intentionally miss it and it won't happen again.’ Having a response like that, the professor, they're going to they want to help. People are going to respond to that. So, part of that is learn how to kind of to stand up for yourself and ask for what you need. But learn how to do it in a way that's still respectful of the other person. Because at the end of the day, I've gotten to know so many of the faculty and staff here, and they really do care about students and want to help. But sometimes their hands are tied because of policies or different things, and at the end of the day, they're just trying to do their jobs, too. So, I sometimes kind of see myself as that bridge between the students and faculty and staff because I think sometimes it's hard to realize, hey, at the end of the day, we're all trying to get through it together and get to the next day and be successful in whatever that looks like. So, that's kind of my other bit of advice, just remember that.

Chisella: I love it though, and I think it's so true that it can be hard to self-advocate and it really, truly is a skill. Which just goes to show students really can utilize you as a resource on so many different levels so that they can be successful during their stay here at the University of Louisville. So, I appreciate the work that you do. I appreciate the time and energy that you dedicate to helping students during times of need and helping them feel like they're supported. I think that aspect truly is what makes the University of Louisville a Cardinal family, is because there are faculty and staff that really care about these students and their success. Not only just in the classroom, but in life.

So, thank you again for your time today. I appreciate you doing this interview, and we're going to go ahead and wrap this up with, did you know if you ever have an experience that you feel needs to be addressed, you can file an online complaint with the Dean of Students Office at their website Alright everybody, thanks for listening to another episode of the Student Affairs Podcast series, and we'll catch you next time.


Student Affairs

SAC W302

University of Louisville

Louisville, Kentucky 40292

Office Hours

M-F 8:30am to 5:00 pm

No holiday hours


tel (502) 852-6933

tel (502) 852-5844

Inclusion Statement