Letter from the Editors, June 2020

Hello, everyone.

This issue of Developments focuses on how people are affected by, engaging with, and negotiating issues related to COVID-19. As editors we thought about the best approach for this quarter’s issue. After discussion, we decided to reach out and solicit your thoughts, essays, and reactions to dealing with the global pandemic in the context of our work.

We realized in doing this that it could be received as a “call for productivity” in the midst of crisis. Instead, our goal has been to share a “call for community.” While not everyone is in a place to write and share about their experiences, for some people this is not only helpful to the profession, but cathartic and healing. Ultimately, we decided to offer space to come together on the topic.

With that in mind, we are grateful to our authors for taking the time to provide information for conversation and reflection. We are still in the midst of the pandemic, however, starting here and starting now and engaging with each other is essential. In a period of social isolation, we cannot afford to be isolated from one either another as colleagues and friends or as colleagues and a community. We need each other to do the work required of us through and beyond the pandemic.

Too often student affairs work is depicted in a secondary role to academic affairs. SA professionals sometimes speak almost apologetically about what we do in comparison to what faculty and upper-level administrators do. In the context of COVID-19, however, what Student Affairs is essential – whether each of us is deemed an “essential employee” or not.

We may not teach students physics or literature or graphic design. What student affairs does is – if not more important, it is differently important. Student affairs does not give students degrees to be qualified for jobs, but we give students skills to secure and keep those jobs. We work with students on issues of group dynamics, communication, navigating conflict, integrity, and the other skills that help them thrive in whatever their chosen fields might be.

Additionally, at a time like this, we make sure that students’ needs are met when it comes to safety, food, shelter. We reach out to support them through family challenges, financial concerns, wellness issues… the list goes on and on. So whether you are a graduate residence hall director who is providing space for students who have nowhere else to go, a student activities staff member who is supporting students navigating the loss of spring programs they have been planning for months (or years), a professional bridging the academic and student affairs realms supporting students as they transition to online learning environments, or a career services team member who is counseling students through the loss of a summer internship or the graduation to job transition in a constantly-changing and unpredictable new world, you are part of the essential work that is continuing to be done.

You are part of the community that has come together to share and grieve and learn and comfort one another in these uncertain times.

Thank you for your work in your position. Thank you for engaging in the thoughts shared in this issue of Developments. Higher education could not, cannot, and will not function without you.

Be well.

Michelle L. Boettcher
ACPA Developments Editor

Kyle Bishop
ACPA Developments Co-Editor

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Letter from the President, June 2020

A week or so before our annual convention this year, I was chatting with ACPA’s Executive Director – Chris Moody.  We were walking through my schedule as incoming president and preparing for our time in Nashville.   I had also put the final touches on some priorities for my term and decided to share them with Chris.  After I proudly shared what I hoped to accomplish during the upcoming year, Chris paused and said: “Keep in mind, ACPA leaders don’t choose their legacies, legacies choose ACPA leaders.” 

Truer words have never been spoken. 

I, like you, never imagined that our work as student affairs scholars and practitioners would shift dramatically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  On a recent Zoom call, I noticed that a participant stated repeatedly: “When we return to normal . . . .”  After the person said this three separate times on the call, I felt compelled to say something.  My comment:  “You do know that from this point on, there will be no normal as we know it in higher education.  There will be a new normal.”  All that we do on college and university campuses has been impacted.  We are forging a new path.  This is new territory for us.  As our past has shown us, I have no doubt that we will rise to the challenge. 

During this pandemic, as an association, ACPA pledges to:

  • work to provide resources and support for our members.
  • represent our members in higher education policy conversations.
  • work with our higher education partner associations to launch creative initiatives that support the higher education community during this time.
  • continue to forecast our financial future (as an association) in these uncertain times.
  • monitor the daily updates on the pandemic’s impact on higher education.
  • keep the impact of COVID-19 on historically marginalized groups front and center in all conversations and initiatives.

The words “unprecedented” and “uncertain” may seem overused to some, but this is where we are as a profession.  Our strength is in our community of creative and resilient members who are called to navigate this time in history.  ACPA is on this journey with you.  Let us know how we can be of assistance. 

Vernon A. Wall
2020-2021 ACPA President

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Letter from the Executive Director, May 2020

After all that college students, their families, institutional leaders, faculty, and particularly staff and student affairs professionals have been through the last two months, I must begin this letter with an overwhelming extension of gratitude and empathy. You have supported students and colleagues through uncharted experiences, while living with tremendous uncertainty in your own personal and professional life. I have never been prouder of the student affairs and higher education community. Thank you for all that you have already given of yourself during this strange and challenging time in the history of our world and work. I am grateful for each and every one of you.

You can imagine that I am regularly asked to make predictions about college and university reopenings for the fall 2020 semester/quarter. What I feel confident is sharing is that institutional decisions will not be one-size-fits-all, unlike the mass decisions to close campuses in March 2020 when the pandemic began to spread in the United States. If you are exhausted from hearing the word “unprecedented” to describe the last two months, prepare yourself to also grow weary of our field’s use of “hybrid” for the coming academic terms.

In truth, student affairs divisions have been preparing for this workplace crisis for the past ten years – the pandemic forced us to act. There has long been discussion about programs, services, and supports that are important to conduct in person, or face-to-face, versus those that could be moved into virtual environments. The push-and-pull for student affairs has been about how we continue to live out the values we place on humanity, justice, and personal development in our work if we begin to minimize interpersonal contact. My shift from working in a campus student affairs division to the association world has allowed me to learn that different forms of interpersonal contact does not necessarily mean harm or reduction to relationships. And it is the centering of relationships, my friends and colleagues, that must remain core in how we design, implement, and evaluate remote or virtual forms of contact that allow for relationships to continue to flourish. In the world of association management, everything we do (except for member conferences and events) is entirely virtual including our weekly staff meetings, one-on-ones, and other methods for communications and relationship cultivation. I feel just as close and connected to my colleagues in the association management world than I did working in a campus environment, so I want to encourage you that it is possible to maintain and care for relationships even in circumstances where contact may be different.

The question remains for our institutions, however, on whether to go fully remote with courses, to implement a hybrid experience with in-person and virtual components, or to reopen the physical campus environment with modifications that account for physical distancing. On a panel I joined in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic, I shared my perspective that how institutions deal with these decisions will determine how they are transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not my intent to oversimplify the complexity of these decisions, but I offer the following questions as themes of conversations that should be occurring with institutional decision-makers about how campuses will be changed in the future:

  1. What must change?
  2. What can change?
  3. What do we want (or not want) to change?

Each of these questions are guided by a different set of motivators. Answers to the first question, “what must change?,” are to be informed by considerations related to state and federal government requirements/restrictions, financial realities, and institutional fear of consequences. This question is driven by regulatory and political compliance, extent of insurance coverage, ability of endowments and investments to fund operations, comparisons to like or peer institutions, threats to reputation and public perception/image, and the sustainability of the organization beyond the next 3-5 years.

The second question, “what can change?,” is one of capital and access. Most institutions are thinking about this question in terms of available technology and the cost to the college to move classes into virtual environments, but we must help to expand those conversations to also include access to technology for students, the human capital involved in the various planning and implementation scenarios, and the long-term implications on people and culture for short-term, “make it work” decisions that solve today’s challenges. It is difficult to quantify or count some forms of capital and access, and this is where our advocacy and voice has never been more critical in campus decision-making. We must help leaders to identify there are more costs to consider beyond hardware, software, and personnel. How are our institutions planning and accounting for the medium- and long-term implications of this trauma on our campuses, and including those conversations in today’s decisions?

The final question, “what do we want to change?,” calls us to account for the roles of mission, purpose, and culture in our institutional decision-making. This question asks us to also commit to the elements of our community where we are not willing to make a sacrifice by naming and holding firm to those things that we cannot or do not want to change. Although each of the previous questions should be informed and influenced by an institution’s mission, values, and cultures, including this as an overt part of decision making is important. This is where student affairs educators may have to be loud and proud of the ways our work contributes to student success. This is where we affirm the importance of prioritizing relationships over contact. This is where we demonstrate that across-the-board budget cuts affect student affairs departments and student-interfacing functions and services disproportionately to the rest of an institution’s operations. This is where an institution has the greatest potential to do additional harm to already marginalized populations of students, staff, faculty, and alumni. This question matters as much as the first two, and I’m afraid that it will not receive equal attention.

I’ll conclude where I began by thanking you for the work you continue to do in supporting your students and colleagues. In difficult times, I am reminded of a favorite quote:

“In every crisis, doubt or confusion, take the higher path – the path of compassion, courage, understanding and love.” – Amit Ray

This is who we are, and I am honored to be in community together. Continue to center love in all that you do.

All my best,

Chris Moody
ACPA Executive Director

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ACPA Books Call for Publications

Do you have a great idea for a book that could benefit the field of student affairs and higher education but not know how to go about getting that book published?  If so, consider publishing with ACPA Books!  ACPA Books offers new authors/editors significant guidance and assistance in the publishing process that is not available when working directly with a publisher. More experienced authors/editors may wish to publish with ACPA Books as a way to “give back” to the organization.  While royalties from all books published through ACPA Books are returned to the association, authors/editors benefit by having their works published, which may enhance their professional reputations and lead to greater professional opportunities for such activities as consulting, keynote speaking, and invited presentations.

ACPA Books partners with Stylus Publishing, one of the leading publishers of student affairs books.  Recent ACPA Books publications include Student Affairs for Academic Administrators (2016; edited by T. Lynn Hogan), Trans* Policies & Experiences in Housing and Residence Life (2018; edited by Jason C. Garvey, Stephanie H. Chang, Z Nicolazzo, & Rex Jackson); and   Debunking the Myth of Job Fit in Higher Education and Student Affairs (2019; edited by Brian J. Reece, Vu T. Tran, Elliott N. DeVore, & Gabby Porcaro).  New titles are in the works; watch for updates in future Developments.

Visit myacpa.org/publications to review the Publishing with ACPA Books document, highlighting the process for submitting a book proposal.  Feel free to contact the ACPA Books co-editors, Mimi Benjamin ([email protected]) and Jody Jessup-Anger ([email protected]) if you have questions.  We look forward to working with you!


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