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No Stupid Questions

A few weeks ago, student advocate Tom Vasey ran an informal session in the Student Lounge called ‘Ask a Stupid Question,’ where students could ask whatever they were too afraid to ask in class. Here he details what went down and what he learnt.

I’d been planning this for some time—an opportunity for students to ask questions that they might have been too worried to ask in class for fear of judgement or ridicule. This was a product of something I’ve seen both as a student and a student advocate; we often have those burning questions we’re desperate to ask, or even little niggling questions we can do without an answer to, but are still a little curious about. It made sense to create a judgement-free forum for those questions to be asked, and I’m going to talk a little about what I learned from it.

One big question that came up during this session was that old chestnut, “what is APA referencing?” If you find yourself laughing at that kind of question, then that’s precisely why I created this space—because there are people who genuinely don’t know, or who don’t find the cheat sheet on the Library page helpful for getting their heads around it. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong or unable to parse information, and laughing doesn’t make you a bad person, either. But the truth is, you never know what you might struggle with, or where your strengths and weaknesses lie until you really go out there and challenge them.

What I learnt from this session is that there are several questions, and fundamental ones at that, that go completely unanswered by university resources, or are at least placed somewhat out of reach, or in hard-to-find places. What’s intuitive for one student might not be intuitive for another. Some people get their heads around APA referencing simply by looking at the cheat sheet. Others work best with visual aids or tutorials, or even proper full-blown classes in which the process is explained. The same is true of paraphrasing. It’s amazing how many things people were afraid to ask about that were so integral and important to their studies.

It was cool to see people excited to have a chat and discuss questions about everything from job-hunting to academic matters to issues with lecturers and tutors. When I didn’t know the answers (and believe me, I don’t pretend to), there was someone else who could give their perspective or share their knowledge, and it was pretty awesome to see how they got engaged. Even some passersby in the Student Lounge ended up listening in, which was helpful for them when questions they were quietly wondering about came up.

In the future, I intend to run more of these sessions, probably with themes. Given the time of semester, I’m thinking we could use one about stress management, or perhaps we could do one on homestay horrors, or the culture shock of coming to New Zealand to study. The sky’s the limit, and it would be wonderful to see you all there. Keep an eye out in the near future on Blackboard, Facebook and Twitter for more sessions like this. Feel free to come along and ask your stupid questions, or just hang out and eat pizza.

Keen to attend one of Tom’s sessions? Email him at to register your interest.

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