Message from the President

“We must not only resent and be angered at injustice; we must simultaneously be in love with justice, and we must be in love with each other.”

I am moved by this sentence, written by our brilliant colleagues Stephen Quaye, Rachel Aho, Dre Dominigue, Florence Guido, Melissa Beard Jacob, Alex Lange, Dian Squire, and D-L Stewart, in the Bold Vision Forward: Framework for the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization (2018, p. 11).

This one line, this one BOLD line, encapsulates everything about the future of higher education and the future of student affairs. Yes we need to continue our advocacy and action against injustice. Yes we need to continue our efforts to imagine and shape a world built for justice. Too often, I think, we weigh too heavily on one side or the other. Either too much anger, or too much hope. The former leads us to become anarchists without grounding in community; the latter leads us to become misplaced idealists lost in our naivete. We need the harmony of both.

But the profoundness of their words lies in the last part: “we must be in love with each other.” We have forgotten how to love in these times. Somehow, we have dropped love from the equation. Our love shows up in pockets and certain places, but we don’t live in it. Perhaps we dabble in it. I know the hate and injustice and pain around us is a lot, and sadly, there is no rest from its attacks. But we cannot begin to transform our communities or transform our profession without living in love.

And yet there is hope. There is a growing consciousness, and a profound community of activists and leaders who are picking up and expanding the efforts to love more deeply and more broadly. I feel moments of light within the darkness, and I am inspired.

As I think about what this means for us as an association, I also know that ACPA is a place where we practice our best selves, with grace, accountability, and love. We may be imperfect in our practice, but love is very much centered in who we are—and always has been.

ACPA, almost 96 years young, is marching boldy to 100. We are a vibrant, strong association, clear in our knowing of who we are, but also perpetually in our process of becoming. We continue to boldly work for the transformation in higher education, boldly work for equity and justice, and boldly work for scholarship and practice.

When I started in the role of president last March, I wondered about some key questions:

  1. How does/will ACPA prepare students to live in a just and inclusive society?
  2. How does/will ACPA prepare and engage student affairs professionals to embark on/join that journey?
  3. How does/will ACPA shape and change institutions to be more just and inclusive?

As we progress toward 100 years, we need to consider some of these questions and reflect on possible answers. We have some good guides to do this: the board is completing a new strategic plan to guide our work, and the membership approved a new mission statement to guide our purpose. I am proud of the clear naming of who we want to be in answering these questions:

ACPA transforms higher education by creating and sharing influential scholarship, shaping critically reflective practice, and advocating for equitable and inclusive learning environments.

As we continue our work, we need to understand these questions individually and collectively, and explore the answers that come up. We need to also be prepared to change our practice while we work on boldly transforming higher education. And we need to do the challenging work to live in love throughout.

It will be hard, and scary, and require our deep vulnerability. In the words of Nakia from the Black Panther comic, the sister of T-Challa, who also served as Black Panther: “We are strong enough to care for others AND protect ourselves.” This is not the time to succumb to fear, but exactly the time to embrace love.

Our work is not abstract or theoretical. The quality of the work we do, and HOW we do it (linked to our values) has real impact on real people. We need to know how we are preparing students to co-create and live in a just society. We need to know how we are preparing ourselves to guide that work. We need to know how we will shape and change our institutions, and higher education, to be more just and loving. Again, we have a bold vision, and some bold templates to get us started.

I ask you to join us in this journey.

Craig Elliott, Samuel Merritt University (CA)
2019-2020 ACPA President

Letter from ACPA Executive Director

Hello ACPA members!

I hope that this greeting finds you well at the beginning of a new academic year and ready to continue boldly shaping and transforming higher education and student affairs through your work and relationships. Whether June through August are a period of rest and renewal for your work or your busiest time of year, I always find the start of a new semester or quarter to be an invigorating time for setting new goals, meeting new people, and welcoming new members into a community. The same is true for professional associations in our field, as this is often the time when new colleagues begin their graduate studies, change institutions or roles, and join or renew their organizational memberships. If you have not updated your membership profile and contact information lately, or if you are due to renew soon, I invite you to log into the ACPA Member Portal to make sure you receive our future communications.

Much like many colleges and universities, the U.S. Congress takes the month of August to reset before facing the remaining months in the calendar year. With different political parties holding majority control over the House and Senate, combined with an unpredictable White House administration, I can report with confidence that following federal policy issues has been a challenge this year. This trend is likely to continue through the rest of the calendar year, leading up to what is predicted to be an even more contentious Presidential election in 2020 than was experienced in 2016. ACPA’s International Office and External Relations leadership and advisory group continues to monitor legislative activity on Capitol Hill, and we have been active in advocating for and reflecting the bold voices of our members in signing onto policy proposals, briefs, and campaigns aimed at the U.S. Congress and Department of Education. In 2019 alone, we have written or signed onto advocacy campaigns related to revisions to the proposed Title IX regulations, sexual assault legislation, support for DACA and Dreamers, tuition assistance for veterans, improvements to capacity of colleges for supporting student access and success, state funding of higher education, and federal labor overtime rules, just to name a few.

And this vigilant work must continue. We are not getting clear indications from either the House or Senate leadership on timelines or goals for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). It seems, to me at least, that both committees are waiting to see what the other will produce while vocally maintaining their independence from what the other is considering. I suspect that we will likely see a modest revision to the HEA reauthorization before the end of 2019 that intends to improve financial aid application processes as a nod to Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander’s departure from the Senate in 2020, given his prior connection to higher education. Many of us are waiting to learn about the status of Title IX regulations from the Department of Education, given that they received over 100,000 submissions during the period of open comment earlier this year. There is no news coming out of the Department of Education on when those regulations might be released. There are some who believe that the Department of Education is waiting to understand what issues related to Title IX the Senate might address in the HEA reauthorization, but the Senate appears to be at a stalemate over Title IX. We can expect, however, that a final rule from the Department of Labor on the topic of overtime eligibility and payment will be released in the near future. Department leaders will want to connect with your institution’s Human Resources and/or Payroll offices to determine whether and how the changes to overtime regulations might influence your campus’ operations.

The work we are doing in monitoring and advocating for our members is done in close collaboration and partnerships with partners in higher education association management, including the American Council on Education, the Washington Higher Education Secretariat, and the Student Affairs in Higher Education Consortium Government Relations group. We are finding that there is strength in uniting with other organizations who share our mission, values, and priorities, and we will continue to boldly do so as we make our way through having our voices heard during chaotic political times and climates.

I am also pleased that a number of ACPA involvement groups have also been bold and vigilant in authoring and publishing their own advocacy campaigns in recent months. I particularly want to highlight the work done by the Commission for Social Justice Educators in releasing a statement and call to action related to the State Government of Hawai’i’s intentions to allow the installation of a thirty-meter telescope (TMT) on sacred Native Hawaiian land found on Mauna Kea. In a similar effort, the Commission for Housing & Residential Life recently released a statement via a blog post on the topics of U.S. states raising the smoking age to 21 and tax endowment implications for private colleges and universities. I can think of no previous time in our history when it is more important to raise our voices in support of the values and purposes we embrace on behalf of college student learning and development, and making the world a safer, more inclusive place.

One needs not look very hard to find evidence of the effects ACPA has had on our campuses and in the lives of professionals. It is clear that we will continue to center the important work of helping college and university campuses address racial injustices and decolonization, while identifying how to continue being the leaders in higher education on this and many other critical issues of our time. We understand that our members expect us to be broad in our scope to support the diverse needs of our profession. We have grown to more than 6,000 strong as an association, and we have many exciting things to look to in our future as we envision “ACPA at 100” leading up to the 2024 Convention in Chicago.

We will share future opportunities for you to engage and provide feedback in this important work in the near future. Until then, I hope you will stay connected to us through involvement in the initiatives and innovations happening in the Commissions, Coalitions and Networks, Communities of Practice, and our State, Regional, and International Chapters. I also hope that you will join us for our 96th anniversary at the ACPA20 Convention in Nashville (March 2-5, 2020) for what will be an amazing experience.

Thank you for being a member of ACPA and thank you for everything you do in support of college student learning and success. I am hopeful for our world’s future because of the bold work you do every single day.

All my best,

Chris Moody
Executive Director,
ACPA-College Student Educators International

From the Interim Editors

Dear ACPA Members and Developments readers,

We are excited to welcome a new Editor and Associate Editor to lead Developments in its continued commitment to bridging scholarship and practice in student affairs!

Dr. Michelle Boettcher, faculty at Clemson University, and Dr. Kyle Bishop, Assistant Dean of Students at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, have agreed to serve our association in these leadership roles.

Dr. Boettcher teaches research, law, and ethics in the Educational Leadership and Student Affairs programs at Clemson University. Her research focuses on senses of belonging and community in the context of higher education, particularly the experiences of first generation college (FGC) students. Prior to her role at Clemson University, Michelle worked in housing and residence life and student conduct. Michelle brings a wealth of experience as practitioner and scholar that will help move Developments forward as a leading theory to practice publication in higher education and student affairs.

Dr. Boettcher shared, “As both a practitioner and a faculty member, I have always found the Developments articles to be useful and approachable in teaching, training, and staff development. The perspectives of experts and front-line practitioners are timely and important as we navigate emerging issues and the needs of our changing student populations. I am grateful for the opportunity to play a role in the process of disseminating this information to the ACPA membership.”

Dr. Bishop is the Assistant Dean of Students at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. In her current role, she oversees the areas of student conduct, counseling, and health services, serves as Deputy Title IX Coordinator, and chairs the College’s threat assessment team. She has worked in higher education for the past 11 years, primarily in the realm of student mental health and wellness. She has served as an editor for the Journal of College Counseling and the Michigan Journal of Counseling. Dr. Bishop’s experiences supporting and encouraging volunteers and journal reviewers will be an asset for Developments, which is completely run by volunteer editorial board members and reviewers. Kyle shared that she is excited to serve ACPA in the role of Associate Editor for Developments  to “facilitate a space for colleagues to share their thoughts, perspectives, and research, so that we may all benefit from each other’s experiences and insights in the ever-shifting landscape of higher education.”

Michelle and Kyle will be working with staff at the International Office and the Director and Director-Elect of Research and Scholarship to establish a new editorial board, recruit reviewers for publications, and to continue and introduce new regular columns on topics of interest to ACPA members. Watch your email for additional information and ways to get involved with and submit your scholarship to Developments in the coming months!

Please let us know if you have any questions or suggestions.

Chris Linder, PhD
Assistant Professor, University of Utah
Director of Research and Scholarship – ACPA Governing Board

Moira Ozias, PhD
Associate Lecturer, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
Director of Research and Scholarship-Elect – ACPA Governing Board

Campus Threat Assessment: Considerations for Administrators

Roger “Mitch” Nasser Jr, PhD
Lindenwood University

One of the most challenging responsibilities for student affairs practitioners today is emergency management. The concern over student safety, liability, and possible lawsuits creates a mentality of perfection. Unfortunately, federal expectations and precedent may further confuse professionals. Where should professionals turn for advice on emergency management? What are best practices? How should institutions progress from prevention to recovery? The following article provides an overview of campus threat assessment, a subsidiary of emergency management. First, I provide a definition of emergency management. Next, I discuss threat assessment as a concept on college campuses and explain a threat assessment model which may be applied to institutions. I then review recent court cases illustrating the federal government’s support of efforts of higher education professionals. Next, I examine student response to campus threat assessment with specific attention to incorporation of social media. Finally, I provide recommendations for practice and discussion questions.

Defining Emergency Management

Emergency management refers to the overall examination of crisis events impacting a specific entity. These events include: natural disasters, climate shifts, epidemics, fire/flood, human crisis issues such as active shooters, and community specific crisis such as train derailments or downed aircraft. Haddow, Bullock, and Coppola (2008) defined emergency management as:

The discipline dealing with risk and risk avoidance. Risk represents a broad range of issues and includes an equally diverse set of players. The range of situations that could possibly involve emergency management or the emergency management system is extensive. This supports the premise that emergency management is integral to the security of everyone’s daily lives and should be integrated into daily decisions and not just called on during times of disaster. (p. 2)

This definition suggests emergency management is an ongoing process involving a diverse pool of experts. Too often, professionals responding to an emergency may assume primary responsibility for analysis and decision making. Higher education administrators must understand this process is a shared responsibility. The shared responsibility is essential when examining threat assessment.

Threat Assessment

The concept of threat assessment is often confused with emergency management. In essence, threat assessment is a component of emergency management. Threat assessment in higher education administration originated as a departmental responsibility. Each department (i.e. residence life, public safety, judicial affairs) developed a plan of identification and response but were not required to share structure with other departments (Asmussen & Creswell, 1995). However, the attack at Virginia Tech in 2007 highlighted the importance of threat assessment and brought it to the forefront of institutional thinking. The federal government created recommendations in the aftermath of this tragedy, including the formation of threat assessment teams (Kaminski, Koons-Witt, Thompson, & Weiss, 2010).   Student affairs practitioners, specifically senior level administrators, are seen as experts in threat assessment and often chair these teams (Hughes, Brymer, Chiu, Fairbank, Jones, Pynoos, & Kessler, 2011).

Research indicated inclusion of student affairs officials in threat assessment teams is important (Dunkle, Silverstein, & Warner, 2008). However, because these teams are a shared responsibility of prevention, the teams must include a variety of personnel able to respond to campus crisis (Deisinger, Randazzo, O’Neill, & Savage, 2008; Lipka, 2009). The diversification of team membership addresses possible overreaction to campus crisis. While institutional leaders are expected to act on information about potential threats, they must see each situation as unique and avoid panic in decision making (Cornell, 2010; Deisinger et al., 2008). In addition, leadership on these committees should rotate to avoid member burnout (Keller, Hughes, & Hertz, 2011). Threat assessment teams, once formed, should consider how they will approach situations.

Threat Assessment Models

Several theorists and government agencies have offered guidance on threat assessment teams. I will highlight one model for the purpose of this article. Cornell (2010) offered a model which is easily adaptable for institutions. While this model focuses on threat assessment, it may be applied to other emergency situations as well. The model is broken into four steps. First, the threat assessment team must identify the threat or crisis by gathering all information pertinent to the issue.  Information must be gathered from all sources available to the team. The team should review all information while avoiding assumptions which could lead to overreaction and excessive sanctions. Examples of this step may include review of a student’s judicial record for threat assessment or long range weather forecast for a hurricane.

Second, the team must evaluate the seriousness of the threat or crisis. This step may involve conducting interviews with witnesses of concerning behavior or a historical review of a particular student’s behavior at the institution. Cornell (2010) suggested this step as key in determining seriousness of a threat. He mentioned two types of campus threats. Transient threats are those which pass as unfounded, such as inappropriate jokes or emotional outbursts. Substantive threats are more serious due to significant information such as directed threat or repeated statements. Examples of step two include speaking with witnesses regarding a student threat or reviewing building structures for stability in a weather event.

The third step of the model is intervention. The threat assessment team should contact community members impacted by the threat as a means of risk reduction. Reduction of the threat is essential as prevention is not possible in all cases. Examples of this step include addressing the safety of possible targets during threat assessment or closing campus buildings during an impending weather disaster. The final step in Cornell’s (2010) model is to follow up after the event. Team members should speak with students, faculty, and staff involved for plan review. The committee examines options for improvement and acts accordingly.

Cornell’s (2010) threat assessment plan is successful only through support from senior level administrators (Baker & Boland, 2011; Cornell, 2010; Deisinger et al., 2008; Keller et al., 2011). The support from these administrators may be financial, verbal, or participatory as committee members. This support creates a validity and motivation for team performance. In addition, institutions must conduct campus wide training to increase reporting by community members. Students, staff, and faculty may be unaware of guidelines, forms, or processes for reporting. Establishing clarity is key for assessment success (Baker & Boland, 2011; Cornell, 2010; Deisinger et al., 2008; Keller et al., 2011). Once threat assessment teams decide how they will address situations, they must consider legal ramifications of their responsibilities.

The Courts are on Our Side

The key legal construct in threat assessment for consideration is negligence. According to Kaplan and Lee (2007), negligence consists of three factors. First, the institution must have a duty of care to another person such as a student. Second, the institution must fail in providing that duty. Finally, the failure of duty directly causes injury to the individual (p. 674). The authors stress all three components must be present for violation to occur. A review of selected court cases may offer clarification.

The courts reviewed institutional responsibility in Shivers v University of Cincinnati (2006). Shivers, a student at the University, was the victim of a rape in a residence hall, specifically in the communal shower area. She claimed the institution failed in a duty of care suggesting the bathrooms did not have proper locking mechanisms. However, the suspect in the case was an unknown person to both the victim and institution. The court ruled in favor of the institution as the incident could not be foreseen. This decision supported the idea of knowledge driven responsibility. Since the institution had no previous knowledge of the suspect, the University did not have a duty (Shivers, 2006).

Institutions are supported in acting on suspicion without substantial evidence. In Krainski v Nevada ex rel. Board of Regents of Nevada System of Higher Education (2010), the court ruled an institution could address a perceived threat prior to final findings. The plaintiff was arrested after making threatening remarks about her roommate, including using scissors to injure the roommate. The comments were shared with the roommate and police were contacted. Krainski was arrested pending final investigation. She sued suggesting her comments should not have been shared and the arrest was unwarranted. The court ruled in favor of the institution. This ruling indicated protection for institutions utilizing quick action in resolving threatening situations.

Finally, administrators may feel an expectation to predict future incidents with little or no information. This unrealistic responsibility causes fear of litigation and stress. The courts appeared to remove this responsibility in the final decision of Commonwealth of Virginia v Peterson (2013). The family of Erin Peterson, a victim in the Virginia Tech shooting, sued the institution over claims of negligence. This case addressed two factors of negligence in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech tragedy. First, the family suggested the institution had a duty to protect the community through notification. When the institution did not send a timely notification, a breach of duty resulted. The institution maintained the first shootings indicated a domestic dispute which had reached resolution according to information available. In essence, the institution could not have predicted the subsequent attacks based on the data available. Originally, the court ruled in favor of the families, but the decision was reversed on appeal in favor of the institution (Commonwealth, 2013). The court agreed the institution acted on the information in a reasonable manner. These rulings suggest administrators are not responsible for absolute prediction of events. The next step in threat assessment planning is examining student perspective.

Student Response to Threat Assessment

Research has indicated a disconnect with student opinion on threat assessment and that of higher education professionals (Baker & Boland, 2011; Kaminski et al., 2010). While professionals may believe safety concerns impact enrollment, student response suggests no connection. In fact, students view campus crisis as infrequent and less impactful (Baker & Boland, 2011; Kaminski et al., 2010). Students understand faculty and staff cannot control behavior. Furthermore, research suggested students do not see importance in threat assessment tools such as emergency text messaging. Many institutions have implemented this procedure or other mass notification systems as a means of emergency communication (Fox & Savage, 2009). Unfortunately, students do not see the value (Mark, 2008).

Students also struggle in reporting critical campus issues. Perhaps they have concerns regarding anonymity, impact to classmates, or simply do not believe situations warrant reporting. A study by Baker and Boland (2011) found critical incident reporting from faculty members doubled that of students. This lack of reporting by students may be detrimental to institutions. Students do not have the same restrictions in reporting as faculty and staff. Professional staff must consider FERPA in reporting, while students may have more flexibility in reporting more freely (Tribbensee & McDonald, 2007). One caveat is that student employees may qualify as mandatory reporters of incidents when they are considered to be university officials (Kaplan & Lee, 2007).

The Use of Social Media in Emergency Response

Higher education administrators must consider all options in their threat assessment plans, specifically regarding notification. The development of social media and rise in its use provides institutions with alternate methods of notification. Studies have suggested the use of mobile platforms such as Facebook and Twitter aid in critical response, recovery, and dissemination of information during a natural disaster (Kelleher, 2009; Procopio & Procopio, 2007; Smith, 2010). A recent study conducted by Pepper (2012) discussed credibility of communication from official sources versus other sources. The research concluded information regarding emergencies communicated by public safety officers to the campus community was viewed as more credible than other sources. This study appeared to validate the usefulness of social media during campus emergency situations. While the study focused on public safety officers, Pepper (2012) suggested social media is useful for other university professionals.

Page (2013) examined the use of social media, specifically Twitter, in the aftermath of the Aurora movie theatre tragedy. Her study suggested social media was essential in communicating information regarding the tragedy. Furthermore, she indicated a higher use of neutral messages, or those that were purely informational rather than those exuding bias. This finding indicates that those consuming social media updates in the midst of an unfolding emergency response are likely seeking informational reports rather than looking to place blame and judgment on the response process. Higher education professionals may consider social media as a tool for communication during and after an emergency situation, especially if students choose against an emergency text system. Threat assessment teams might consider adopting use of social media in their planning; however, this technique may be useless without credibility and student buy-in. Higher education administrators must establish credibility by sharing emergency planning with students, staff, faculty, and community members on a regular basis for notification procedures to prove effective.

Recommendations for Practice

I propose four considerations for practice based on the information provided in this article. First, emergency management including threat assessment is a shared administrative responsibility among faculty and staff. While student affairs practitioners may have specific expertise in understanding student behavior, they should not bear the main responsibility for analysis or intervention. There should be space for faculty to be involved in the threat assessment process either as members of the threat assessment team or by participating in training opportunities. This involvement increases the credibility of threat assessment procedures. The collaboration of faculty and staff also improves student understanding of threat assessment. Second, higher education administrators may place undue pressure on themselves for identification and prevention of future emergencies. Perhaps we, as faculty and staff in higher education, self-impose this responsibility as opposed to it being set before us.

Third, we must consider options for training, if the student reporting challenge is viable. Students are the focal point of our positions and the reason for our profession. Professionals may use their expertise in designing ways to reach today’s students. Student affairs administrators must collaborate with law enforcement to instruct students regarding reporting incidents. Faculty might hold class discussions on emergency response in introductory courses. Student leaders may contribute through sharing instances where they reported concerns to administrators. Educating students through discussion and avoiding panic is essential to programmatic development.

Finally, student affairs practitioners should consider use of social media in notification of campus emergencies. The studies cited suggested students and community members both seek and respond to information via social media. The responsibility to engage our students in this method is elevated if students do not elect to sign up for emergency texting systems.


Student affairs practitioners may feel discomfort with the topic of threat assessment on campus. Administrators might fear legal repercussions for decision making, which may impact reputation, financial stability, and employment. Staff may also have concerns regarding ensuring student safety. As higher education professionals, we must understand that we may not have the ability to guarantee student safety. If we perform at our best and act on information appropriately, we will meet legal expectations. The threat assessment model shared in this article provides a starting point for administrators designing response or those evaluating current processes.

Threat assessment is only a small part of emergency management. Techniques must shift with the times, rendering the future of threat assessment undetermined. Advances in technology, challenges in reporting, and involvement of the entire campus community ask us to consider the best plan for our individual campuses. Practitioners may feel undue pressure or confusion regarding processes and responsibilities. I am hopeful this article serves to quell fears and provide directions for planning.

Discussion Questions

  • What is the threat assessment plan at your institution? How should this plan be improved or adjusted in light of the information presented in this article?
  • How do you communicate with students in an emergency? Are students receptive to notifications? What techniques might you add in order to reach a greater audience?
  • Do your students understand the importance of reporting incidents? How might you increase reporting?
  • How collaborative is your threat assessment plan? How might you improve partnerships?

Author Bio

Dr. Roger “Mitch” Nasser Jr. is Assistant Professor and Program Chair of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership at Lindenwood University. Mitch served as a student affairs administrator in residence life, judicial affairs, and academic advising for 18 years prior to becoming a faculty member. His research interests include threat assessment, supervision, and social justice education.


Asmussen, K. J., & Creswell, J. W. (1995). Campus response to a student gunman. Journal of Higher Education, 66, 575–591.

Baker, K., & Boland, K. (2011). Assessing safety: A campus-wide initiative. College Student Journal, 45(4), 683–699.

Commonwealth of Virginia v Peterson 749 SE 2d 307 – Va. Supreme Court (2013). Retrieved from,26

Cornell, D. (2010). Threat assessment in college settings. Change, 42(1), 8–15.

Deisinger, G., Randazzo, M., O’Neill, D., & Savage, J. (2008). The handbook for campus threat assessment & management teams. Stoneham, MA.: Applied Risk Management.

Dunkle, J. H., Silverstein, Z. B., & Warner, S. L. (2008). Managing violent and other troubling students: The role of threat assessment teams on campus. Journal of College and University Law, 34 (3), 586-635.

Fein, R. A., Vossekuil, B., Pollack, W. S., Borum, R., Modzeleski, W., & Reddy, M. (2004). Threat assessment in schools: A guide to managing threatening situations and to creating safe school climates. Revised: US Department of Education. Jessup, MD: ED Pubs. Available from

Fox, J. A., & Savage, J. (2009). Mass murder goes to college: An examination of changes on college campuses following Virginia Tech. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(10), 1465-1485.

Haddow, G. D., Bullock, J. A., & Coppola, D. P. (2008). Introduction to emergency management. Amsterdam: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Hughes, M., Brymer, M., Chiu, W. T., Fairbank, J. A., Jones, R. T., Pynoos, R. S., & Kessler, R. C. (2011). Posttraumatic stress among students after the shootings at Virginia Tech. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 3(4), 403–411.

Kaminski, R. J., Koons-Witt, B. A., Thompson, N. S., & Weiss, D. (2010). The impacts of the Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University shootings on fear of crime on campus. Journal of Criminal Justice, 38(1), 88–98.

Kaplin, W. A., & Lee, B. A. (2007). The law of higher education, student version. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kelleher, T. (2009). Conversational Voice, Communicated Commitment, and Public Relations. Outcomes in Interactive Online Communication. Journal of Communication, 59(1), 172-188.

Keller, E. W., Hughes, S., & Hertz, G. (2011). A model for assessment and mitigation of threats on the college campus. Journal of Educational Administration, 49(1), 76–94.

Krainski v. Nevada ex rel. Board of Regents of Nevada System of Higher Education. 616 F.3 963. (2010). Retrieved from,26.

Lipka, S. (2009, January 23). Threat-assessment teams get a professional group. The Chronicle of Higher Education, A17.

Mark, R. (2008). School alert systems proliferate. eWeek, 25, 17.

Page, R. (2013). What we tweet about in chaos: Framing, Twitter, and the 2012 Aurora massacre. Retrieved from

Pepper, N. (2012). Source credibility and the persuasiveness of public safety messages communicated via social media. Retrieved from

Procopio, C.H., & Procopio, S.T. (2007). Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? Internet communication, geographic community, and social capital in crisis. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 35(1), 67–‐87.

Shivers v University of Cincinnati. No.06AP-209. (2007). Retrieved from,26

Smith, B. G. (2010). Socially distributing public relations: Twitter, Haiti, and interactivity in

social media. Public Relations Review, 36(4), 329-335

Tribbensee, E., & McDonald, S. (2007). FERPA and campus safety. NACUA Notes, 5(4), 2.

Role of a Graduate Student Honor Society in Encouraging Professional Identity Development

written by Christopher Giroir and Christine Austin

Author Note

Christopher Giroir and Christine E. Austin are both faculty members in higher education administration graduate programs. Dr. Austin is currently employed at Arkansas Tech University as a Professor, while Dr. Giroir is at The University of Louisiana, Lafayette, where he serves as an Associate Professor.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Christopher Giroir, Educational Foundations and Leadership, PO Box 43643, Lafayette, LA 70504

Contact: [email protected]

Role of a Graduate Student Honor Society in Encouraging Professional Identity Development

Student affairs professionals know the benefits associated with undergraduate campus involvement in student groups, but little study has been done on how involvement in student groups might impact graduate students (Foubert & Grainger, 2006). An examination of the role and benefits associated with honor societies provides a worthy argument as to why there is a need for more among student affairs/higher education graduate preparation programs.   Involvement within an honorary contributes to the graduate student socialization process, aids in the development of a professional identity, provides opportunities for self-authorship, and provides examples of how to apply the professional competencies for the student affairs profession.

Involvement in co-curricular activities has long been considered essential to the holistic development of undergraduate students (Astin, 1999; Kuh, 1995). It is this focus on undergraduate student development that makes up the theoretical base of the student affairs profession (Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton, & Renn, 2010). Graduate education socialization, while not a specific focus of many student development theorists, incorporates many concepts of psychosocial and cognitive development to students seeking advanced education (Gansemer-Topf, Ewing Ross, & Johnson, 2006). The graduate years begin a student’s socialization into the culture and values of their chosen profession and thus create an opportunity to positively impact a student’s continuing development and path into the profession (Perez, 2016).

Classroom learning is devoted to the history, culture, and theoretical background of the field. Practicums and internships common to most graduate preparation programs are useful for applying new skills (CAS, 2012), but engagement outside of the curriculum is limited at the graduate level. A graduate student honor society offers the opportunity to add co-curricular involvement to the formal degree plan and allows students to gain and develop the competencies that will make them successful student affairs professionals.

Honor Societies

Involvement as an undergraduate student has been shown to correlate positively with increased success by offering opportunities for skill building and networking with people influential in their future careers (Astin, 1999). While graduate students, particularly those in student affairs professional preparation, have had the opportunity for involvement as undergraduates (Taub & McEwen, 2006), many have increased responsibilities and roles that hinder such involvement at the graduate level. Graduate students’ needs are more varied and dependent upon a student’s particular characteristics, including but not limited to: age, marital status, being a parent, or full-time employment status (Baker, 1992). These obstacles do not mean that socialization, support for identity and professional development, or opportunities for career development are unnecessary (Magolda, 1998); in fact, all of these items might even be more critical once a student makes the decision to enroll in professional studies. The time, energy, and money required for further education demand well-considered opportunities for students to practice and hone their professional competencies and make critical contacts before they embark on a job search (Simon, 2012).

Unfortunately, graduate students encounter a major obstacle through the lack of opportunities for engaging with graduate organizations. Austin (2002) posits that graduate education relies on the department to provide support to graduate students. Departmental support is often primarily academic with little in the way of psychosocial and professional development. Research on student organizations in student affairs graduate preparation programs is lacking and research on graduate honorary organizations in student affairs even more so.

Studies conducted on the membership of the national honor society, Psi Chi, examined the benefits of undergraduate honor society membership in psychology (Ferrari & Appleby, 2006; Ferrari, Athey, Moriarty, & Appleby, 2006). The research pointed towards a positive impact on skill acquisition and future career goals for its members. Participation in an honor society positively impacted the students selected by promoting association with other successful students and allows for crucial network building. While the research was performed on undergraduate student members, it is conceivable that just as student development theory can be extended to encompass the further development of graduate students, the benefits of membership and leadership in an honor society can also extend to advanced study.

The student affairs discipline has its own honor society, Chi Sigma Alpha (n.d.) that could easily offer similar value to the student affairs graduate student experience. Chi Sigma Alpha is built on the tenets of academics, research, and service to the profession, and offers opportunities for a deeper engagement with the field similar to those for members of Psi Chi (Ferrari et al., 2006).

Benefits from Participation in a Graduate Honor Society

In a study conducted by Abrahamowicz (1988), participants in student organizations had positive perceptions of relationships with faculty, administration, and their fellow students. Positive relationships with faculty can lead to opportunities for joint research and writing in the field that can add new literature to the student affairs’ body of knowledge. The Chi Sigma Alpha pillar of research encourages such cooperation, and positive relationships with faculty and administrators can lead to employment recommendations for students (Duberstein, 2009).

Not only does involvement in campus organizations have positive effects while the student is actively pursuing their degree, but studies have shown long term benefits (Schuh & Laverty, 1983). Schuh and Laverty (1983), explored long-term effects of involvement from campus organizations. The study showed a correlation to student organization membership with continued organizational involvement and continued interactions with a variety of peers beyond graduation. Graduates can be connected and involved with their honorary by serving as mentors and practitioner-scholars to current student members. These graduates provide first-hand knowledge from the field on current challenges facing student affairs administrators and how to address these situations. In addition, members may be more likely to get involved with national associations to stay connected with current issues and possibly take on leadership roles within the associations (Ferrari et al., 2006).

Pascarella and Terenzini (1991) determined college graduates perceived their co-curricular involvement as “having a substantial impact on the development of interpersonal and leadership skills important to general occupational success” (p. 478). By providing activities and professional development workshops for members in an honorary, graduate faculty are equipping their students with the tools they need to be successful in a competitive job market. Mackes (2017) reports, “More than 70 percent of employers have consistently identified leadership, teamwork, written communication ability, problem solving, and work ethic as key résumé attributes. Teamwork, verbal communication skills, and problem solving are the skills employers consider important for success” (p. 8).  Today’s college student is focused on securing employment upon completion of their academic studies and one of our roles as advisors to student groups or faculty is to create opportunities for them to gain the skills most desired among employers.

Lastly, the use of graduate honorary organizations offers the opportunity to connect academic and student affairs in partnership. Graduate education has been identified as “fragmented and isolating” (Guentzel & Nesheim, 2006). Through participation of graduate students, faculty, and administrators with this student organization, this partnership can be modelled to stakeholders. The inclusion of student affairs administrators in the honorary organization can offer students the in training professional socialization they need for their development.

Honor Societies Role in Graduate Student Socialization

Socialization. Weidman-Twale-Stein’s graduate student socialization model (2001) states entering graduate students often experience a process where they learn how to balance not only the new demands of their academic program, but they must also be aware of a new set of norms, values, and attitudes practiced by their new faculty and peers to successfully navigate their graduate experience. Socialization is a process that consists of the integration of cultural (one’s preconceived values, thoughts, etc.) and social capital (interactions with peers, faculty, and others) while making adjustments as necessary to meet personal goals (Weidman, 2015). The integration of inter-personal (peer, faculty, mentor) and intra-personal (studying, reflection, learning) interactions helps accumulate social capital for the graduate student through their involvement in a student group/honorary. For many new students they believe their focus should be on improving the intra-personal by acquiring “the values, norms, attitudes, and beliefs associated with their discipline and with the profession at large” (Tierney & Rhoads, 1993, p. 23). The inter-personal interaction is equally important and can be provided by a graduate student organization such as an honor society. By offering mentor/mentee socials, mock interviews, case study competitions, and developmental workshops on topics such as professional ethics, current issues, and trends in higher education, graduate preparation programs are helping future administrators embrace their field and are contributing to what Tierney (1991) identifies as professional anchoring to the profession for their student members.

Professional Identity. Student affairs graduate preparation programs present information to their students regarding how to develop a professional identity in the student affairs profession.   Carpenter (2003) has derived a model that describes three stages toward a professional identity – formative, application, and additive. While each stage contributes to the growth of a professional identity, it is during the third stage—additive, where organizational membership might be most effective. The additive stage occurs when an individual takes on a more contributory role to the profession. Individuals at this stage actively engage in the field through scholarly productivity, mentoring, policy formation, and top leadership roles in national associations. According to Carpenter, a professional can be identified as someone who is learning, doing, and contributing to the work of student affairs. These constructs can be correlated back to the basic principles of academics, research, and service which are the foundational pillars of the honorary student organization of Chi Sigma Alpha (n.d.).

Some examples demonstrating professional identity growth through Chi Sigma Alpha may include learning more about the profession through their course work, attending workshops where professionals in the field of student affairs speak to them on relevant current issues, or developing mentor relationships with current student affairs professionals. Students are engaged in scholarly activities ranging from reading current research in the field, developing presentations on various topics for their practicums/internships/graduate assistantships, or by attending/presenting at conferences on relevant research impacting the field of student affairs. Lastly, the honorary encourages members to give back to the student affairs profession by presenting informational workshops about the field or engaging in service projects designed to benefit the university, local, or national community.

Self-Authorship. Graduate preparation faculty work to empower their students to explore who they are as both individuals and who they would like to be as future student affairs practitioners. Faculty and student affairs professionals are steering graduate students to take and shape their intellectual identity while in graduate school. Magolda’s (2001) work on self-authorship can be used as a foundational framework for helping graduate students in student affairs preparation programs, but in particular in an honor society, to identify who they truly are as student affairs professionals. As Perez noted in her work (2016), self-authorship has been underutilized when it comes to adult development, in particular the intrapersonal and interpersonal growth of student affairs professionals. Participation in a graduate honorary may provide opportunities that will challenge members to identify their thought process and demonstrate their development and movement toward self-authorship by providing case studies centering on complex issues impacting student affairs.

Graduate honor societies can use the self-authorship theory to empower their members to use the professional competencies of the profession. Members in a graduate honorary can apply and use the ten competency areas in their work and service in some form. Applying skills listed under the leadership competency area will help build effective and confident student affairs administrators. In each of the competency areas there are three skill sets (basic, intermediate, and advanced) that explain the suggested competencies professionals should meet. These competency levels can be compared to the different stages of Magolda’s self-authorship theory (2001). As new members of the honorary, students are not confident in their roles and have a good grasp of what they need to do as members of the organization. They follow the formula (stage one) of gaining an understanding of the basic competencies listed for the leadership competency. For instance, they may begin to see how teamwork and teambuilding works with their fellow members (ACPA/NASPA, 2010). As members of the honorary continue their involvement with the organization, they may gain more confidence in their leadership skills and contemplate whether they want to take on more responsibilities with the organization. Magolda would classify these individuals at the crossroads and self-authorship stages of the theory as they begin to take on more responsibilities and become actively engaged in making decisions for the student organization (2008). It is at this point, where graduate students in an honorary may begin applying the skills listed under the intermediate and advanced levels of the competency area very clearly. They assume leadership roles with the organization and begin to take ownership for decisions and practices with the organization (NASPA, 2010). Lastly, members of the honorary are invited to be engaged with the organization, even after graduation. As alumni of the organization they can serve as role models or mentors for new members to the organization and help them identify the type of student affairs leader they want to be.

Professional Competencies. When exploring the professional competencies associated with the profession, involvement in a graduate honorary organization is supported by several areas; however, the leadership competency area has the most obvious connection. Faculty encourage students to use basic and intermediate leadership skills and practices by taking on roles to help with the management and oversight of the student organization. For instance, student leaders may be asked to facilitate consensus building for decisions impacting the student organization. Involvement in the organization also sets the stage for students to feel they can have the potential to make positive contributions to their campus and the overall student affairs profession. Another competency area which can be impacted through a graduate honorary is Social Justice and Inclusion. Educating student members about ways to embrace and become advocates for diversity and inclusion can be made available through programming for the graduate honorary. For example, inviting in a presenter to give a presentation on intersectionality within disability support services could spur conversations among members about interpersonal development along race, class, and ability, thus demonstrating a practical way to implement the social justice and inclusion competency area. Finding ways to include graduate students in professional development opportunities exclusive for staff and faculty can increase awareness and advocacy for underrepresented populations. Programs such as Safe Zone or Ally Training while beneficial for all participants is very synergistic for graduate students as it allows them to interact and grow as rising professionals, but also strengthen their prowess and understanding of marginalized populations. Overall, encouraging involvement and leadership within a graduate honorary devoted to the student affairs profession is an easy way for students to put into practice all the professional competencies.

Conclusions/Future Directions

The opportunity to test their own abilities through membership and leadership in a graduate student honor society will allow students another avenue for exploring their professional identity (Ferrari et. al., 2006). Currently there are less than 30 active chapters of Chi Sigma Alpha in the United States (n.d.). Expansion of this honor society and other social organizations geared toward graduate student involvement is encouraged. It is important to note there are differences in membership requirements between an honorary organization verses a social club/group. Most honor societies will have certain academic requirements for members (i.e. specific GPA), service requirements, and in some instances other specific requirements are found with honorary groups such as research expectations. In addition, some honor societies will require membership dues, which may not be the case for some social clubs/organizations. Future research also needs to be performed on the impact of an honor society to a student’s future success, and specifically on the impact to graduate students in the area of engagement in student organizations. A graduate education is an investment and every effort to make students successful upon completion of their degree is worthwhile.

Reflection Questions

  • In what ways are graduate preparation programs encouraging their students to get involved with co-curricular organizations on their campuses?
  • How can participation in a graduate honor society in student affairs differ from involvement in other co-curricular activities? 


Abrahamowicz, D. (1988). College involvement, perceptions, and satisfaction: A study of membership in student organizations. Journal of College Student Development, 29(3), 233-238.

ACPA/NASPA Joint Task Force on Professional Competencies and Standards. (2010). Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners. Retrieved from

Astin, A.W. (1999). Student involvement: A development theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Development, 40, 518-529.

Astin, A.W. (1993). What matters in college? Four-critical years revisited. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Austin, A.E. (2002). Preparing the next generation of faculty: Graduate school as socialization to the academic career. Journal of Higher Education, 73(1), 94-122.

Carpenter, S. (2003). Professionalism. In S.R. Komives, D.B. Woodard Jr., & Associates (Eds.), Student services: A handbook for the profession (4th ed.; pp. 573-591). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Chi Sigma Alpha. (n.d.). Student Affairs Honor Society International. Retrieved from

Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS). (2012). CAS professional standards for higher education (8th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Duberstein, A. (2009, March). Building student-faculty relationships. Academic Advising
Today, 32 (1).

Evans, N.J., Forney, D.S., Guido, F.M., Patton, L.D., & Renn, K.A. (2010). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Ferrari, J.R., Athey, R.B., Moriarty, M.O., & Appleby, D.C. (2006). Education and employment among alumni academic honor society leaders. Education, 127(2), 244-259.

Ferrari, J.R. & Appleby, D.C. (2006). Psi Chi alumni: A national survey of psychology honor society graduates. College Student Journal, 40(2), 457-466.

Foubert, J. & Grainger, L. (2006). Effects of involvement in clubs and organizations on the psychosocial development of first-year and senior college students. NASPA Journal 43(1), 166-182.

Gansemer-Topf, A.M., Ross, L.E., & Johnson, R.M. (2006). Graduate and professional student development and student affairs. In Guentzel & Nesheim (Eds.) Supporting Graduate and Professional Students: The Role of Student Affairs. New Directions for Student Services, 115, (pp. 19 – 30). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Guentzel, M.J. & Nesheim, B.E. (2006). Throwing pebbles at Stonehenge: Advocating for graduate students. In Guentzel & Nesheim (Eds.) Supporting Graduate and Professional Students: The Role of Student Affairs. New Directions for Student Services, 115 (pp. 101-106). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hall, M.D. (2012). Using student-based organizations within a discipline as a vehicle to create learning communities. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 71–84. doi: 10.1002/tl.20037.

Kuh, G.D. (1995). The other curriculum: Out-of-class experiences associated with student learning and personal development. Journal of Higher Education, 66(2), 123-155.

Kuk, L., & Cuyjet, M.J. (2009). Graduate preparation programs: The first step in socialization. In A. Tull, J.B. Hirt, & S.A. Saunders (Eds.), Becoming socialized in student affairs administration (pp. 89-108). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Magolda, M.B. (2008). Three elements of self-authorship. Journal of College Student Development, 49, 269-84.

Magolda, M.B. (1998). Developing self-authorship in graduate school. In M.S. Anderson (ed.), The experience of being in graduate school: An exploration. New Directions for Higher Education, 101 (pp. 41-54). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

NASPA. (1987). Perspective on student affairs. Retrieved from

Nesheim, B.E., Guentzel, M.J., Gansemer-Topf, A.M., Ross, L.E., & Turrentine, C.G. (2006). If you want to know, ask: Assessing the needs and experiences of graduate students. In Guentzel & Nesheim (eds.), Supporting Graduate and Professional Students: The Role of Student Affairs. New Directions for Student Services 115 (pp. 5-18). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pascarella, E. & Terezini, P.T. (1991). How college affects students. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Perez, R. J. (2016). A conceptual model of professional socialization within student affairs graduate preparation programs. Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education, 1, 35-52. Retrieved from

Schuh, J.H. & Laverty, M. (1983). The perceived long-term influence of holding a significant student leadership position. Journal of College Student Personnel, 24(1), 28-32.

Simon, C.C. (2012, February 16). Graduate degrees: Are they worth it? The Washington Post.
Retrieved from

Taub, D. J. & McEwen, M.K. (2006). Decision to enter the profession of student affairs.  Journal

     of College Student Development 47(2), 206-216.

Tierney, W.G., & Rhoads, R.A. (1993). Faculty socialization as cultural process: A mirror of institutional commitment. Washington D. C.: The George Washington University.

Weidman, J. (2015). Graduate student socialization: Revisiting the Weidman-Twale-Stein model presentation [Power-point slides]. Retrieved from

Weidman, J., Twale, D., & Leahy-Stein, E. (2001). Socialization of graduate and professional students in higher education: A perilous passage. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report 28(3), 2-122.

Moral Crises and Ordinary Virtues

written by Jonathan O’Brien

The U.S. is slipping into a full-fledged moral crisis. At least that’s what the commentators and pundits in my morning newsfeeds are declaring. Higher education news outlets share in the nihilism with constant reports of corruption, neglect, and inept administrators. Admittedly, my bias is that higher education, like other social institutions, should be held to high ethical standards, so when I read about moral crises on college campuses, I get triggered. In this column I use “moral crisis” as a starting point to explore how we can sustain our campus communities during difficult times, from both an institutional and individual perspective. I argue that when serious abuses of power and trust occur, we often see strangers step forward to render aid to survivors and, ultimately, restore confidence in community.

Curious if this moral decline was a trend, I did an internet search for the phrase “moral crisis in higher education.” Hundreds of reports condemned leaders at the University of Virginia who stumbled before issuing a full-throated denunciation of the torch-bearing white supremacists who marched through the campus in 2017. More recently, I found dozens of articles criticizing willful ignorance and feeble responses of leaders at multiple universities in the wake of hundreds of reports of sexual assault and hazing deaths.

Two articles about sexual abuse, penned by local observers highlight the moral consequences and challenges involved in restoring trust among campus community members. In the first article, Kate Kennedy (2018) described several red flags that may have foretold the crisis at her university, like mistreating vulnerable populations (e.g., women, students of color, queer-identified), silencing marginalized voices in campus governance, and sidestepping ethical lapses to protect institutional reputation. In the second article, a group of deans (Beauchamp, Croson, David, et al., 2018) described their efforts to create a culture of inclusion and empowerment grounded in principles of awareness, honesty, and responsibility. For these authors, supporting survivors and holding perpetrators responsible were top priorities. They also remind us that moral crises impact the whole community.

Human crises marked by violence, betrayal, and abuse are critical moments when the core principles of a campus community are thrust into collective consciousness. These events offer a rare opportunity to revisit shared ideals. As people struggle to make sense of the dreadful events surrounding them, a key component of the healing process is institutional messages that affirm trust and inspire hope. Unfortunately, if these words exist, they are often buried in an obscure webpage a dozen clicks from the splashy home page. Even an institution that proudly exclaims its values on banners and business cards can face a moral crisis of epic proportions that sheds doubt on whether those time-honored principles still speak to contemporary realities.

In most institutions, when a disaster occurs, it falls on student affairs professionals to help the community heal and move through the pain. Moral crises are no different. How do we know what a healthy community looks like?

Six Principles of Campus Community

Nearly 30 years ago, Ernest Boyer (1990) observed that vibrant campus communities displayed six common values: purpose, openness, discipline, justice, care, and celebration. Purposeful communities involve everyone in the process of learning and teaching. Open communities value free and respectful expression for all members. Disciplined communities demand individual responsibility and shared decision-making that benefits everyone. Just communities value diversity and human dignity. Caring communities promote concern for others and actions that facilitate others’ growth as persons. Celebrative communities honor institutional traditions and consistently adapt rituals and ceremonies to incorporate the contributions of newcomers. The principles emerged from a year-long study involving hundreds of U.S. institutions, at a time when severe budget cuts and a “climate of endless ambiguity” (p. 7) forced professionals to make tough choices about how to address many of the same problems we struggle with today, like sexual and racial harassment and substance abuse. Amid increasing uncertainty, these principles offered a shared vision for a flourishing campus community.

And then came social media. This technological revolution brought us smartphones loaded with cameras and apps that incessantly expose us to new cultures and values, track our likes and dislikes, and broadcast our beliefs to the world as we kill time in line at the campus coffee cart. Among the many benefits of social technology is its ability to connect people and facilitate communities across boundaries, identities, and interests that were impossible less than a decade ago. There aren’t many drawbacks to these virtual connections. It’s always been possible for any idiot to create a community based on antipathy of outsiders. However, social media does offer some new twists on old tricks. For example, it’s never been easier to receive so much recognition for being a good person for so little effort and emotion. Millions of users can pile on to an offensive post by voting their moral outrage without doing anything about it. Similarly, individuals can increase their virtue score among hundreds of followers—er, friends who follow them —by strategically retweeting an article they’ve never read (who has the time anyway?).

Distrust in social institutions—already a trend before the arrival of social media—seems to have accelerated in the decades since Boyer’s principles were published. Fake news and alternative facts aside, Gallup (2018) has for decades reported steady declines in citizens’ lack of confidence in entities like organized religion, public schools, broadcast news, and Congress. The public’s opinion of higher education is mixed. One survey found respondents equally divided in their views, positive or negative, about the return on public investment in higher education; however, three-quarters of college graduates surveyed said that higher education was integral to their personal development (Drezner, Pizmony‐Levy, & Pallas, 2018). These graduates’ favorable opinion of higher education indicates a window of opportunity for professionals and educators to invest in developing our students into ethical leaders and change agents that the world desperately needs.

Boyer’s (1990) principles still have much to offer higher education professionals who seek a communitarian vision in response to moral ambiguity. But it’s also fair to say that our confidence in institutions has not improved much over the last 30 years. When people see that some moral positions are prioritized over others, they quickly become suspicious of faceless authorities and instinctively resist the imposition of institutional values that feel out of context and contrary to their lived experiences. There is little hope that mistrust in the morality of institutions will change if our preferred communication channel is a virtual world of people and interest groups whose opinions (on all things) reinforce our own. Thus, professionals who rely solely on a principle-centered approach to restore community in the aftermath of crisis, with the best of intentions, may be exacerbating the problem.

Ordinary Virtues

If principles are problematic, then what can we do to restore community after a crisis? Rather than a top-down approach, we must draw from the moral strengths that already exist in the community. This is the view of Michael Ignatieff (2017), who described five “ordinary virtues” of moral life in community: trust, tolerance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and resilience. These virtues emerged from dozens of interviews with poor and working-class people from diverse communities in Los Angeles and New York and global locales in Bosnia, Fukushima, South Africa, Myanmar, and Rio de Janeiro, where inhabitants were living in the aftermath of crises like war, ethnic and racial discrimination, or economic upheaval.

Ordinary virtues are “acquired practical skills in moral conduct and discernment” (Ignatieff, 2017, p. 27). Unlike principles imposed on a community, these are personal virtues that evolve through “a continuous process of identity testing” (p. 208). It’s worth noting here that virtues do not equal action. Obviously, virtues or principles alone cannot prevent malevolent behavior from happening. It’s also easy to get lost in the language of traits and dispositions and forget about the very personal impact of crisis in the form of suffering and loss. Each of us interprets a crisis differently and opinions about how to address it vary. Only individuals who have been harmed can bestow virtues like trust, forgiveness, and reconciliation, these cannot be expected or imposed by an external authority.

Bottom line: I think we’re wasting our time imposing abstract principles on each other in hopes of healing and change until we can value the moral qualities each of us brings to our communities and create environments where we all flourish.

At this point, I’ll pause to acknowledge that I am keenly aware that terms like tolerance or resilience—even virtue for that matter—will trigger some readers. This concern is well-placed since these terms are often used to frame students from minoritized populations as culpable for circumstances outside their control. Anticipating this critique, Ignatieff (2017) noted that resilience can indeed be abusive: “Praise for resilience can … make survival seem like an achievement, when in fact survivors know just how much their survival depended on chance” (p. 153). Still, after bearing witness to countless stories of courage and tenacity, he concluded that resilience aptly evoked the survivors’ “metaphysical commitment … to the future continuity of human life itself…[that] we will not only survive but prevail” (p. 166). One might say that Ignatieff is imposing his own moral biases on the interviewees, re-inscribing their trauma. In my view, he arrived at this interpretation through sustained dialogue and intense scrutiny of his privilege and biases, which is what many higher education professionals practice and they endeavor to instill in their students. Thankfully, ordinary virtues forego scholarly jargon, theorizing, and buzz words in favor of common understanding and mutual concern.

Ordinary Virtues and Institutional Crises

College campuses, like other social institutions, supply necessary resources, conditions, and structures to “make virtue ordinary” in our lives (Ignatieff, 2017, p. 195). Even so, campuses can be inhospitable places where conflict—intellectual, social, political—is unrelenting. In response, we form enclaves that operate like families where an ethos, shaped by the ordinary virtues that we hold in common, is reinforced and honored. Ignatieff referred to this ethos as a “moral operating system” (p. 27) that is always running in the background and outside of our conscious awareness until a major crisis requires a reboot of the system. As the initial shock of a crisis subsides, the moral operating system of the community tugs at our sentiments, compelling us to do the right thing, regardless of the institution’s values or policies. This was evident after the Paris bombings in November 2015, when strangers displayed “an inchoate, unformulated, but stubborn commitment to live together again” (p. 221) in the form of donations and small acts of kindness toward survivors and others affected by the tragedy.

For higher education professionals, rebuilding community after a crisis requires both fidelity to the institutional principles above us and a keen grasp of moral operating systems that function at the surface. Formal principles are important because they reduce uncertainty amid chaos; however, ordinary virtues capture the diversity of individual members’ lived realities in language that is authentic and reassuring. Most importantly, professionals must anticipate when principles become stale platitudes that counter ordinary virtues and be prepared to reconcile the differences among them to promote healing and avoid further alienation among community members. Ideally, we should be exploring and co-constructing moral operating systems before a crisis strikes. Many higher education professionals already do this work via intergroup dialogue courses and similar programs that build connections across faith traditions, race and gender diversity, and common sources of conflict.

Getting Personal with Ordinary Virtues

In truth, most professionals have little time to reflect on institutional principles and personal virtues until a crisis makes it real. There doesn’t have to be a crisis to learn about the moral systems operating in your institution. In fact, there are important professional and career reasons for doing so. In your current position, it is important to know the ordinary virtues that are prevalent on campus, the moral operating systems of various communities, and how these interact with institutional principles. Rather than assume institutional principles apply to everyone, we can make sure that programs and services, especially those designed to build community, align with participants’ experiences and core beliefs.

From a personal and career perspective, learning about the moral operating systems at your institution can reinforce your decision to stay or to leave. When applying for a job, most of us read up on the institution’s values and principles as we prepare to interview. Unfortunately, moral operating systems do not reveal themselves fully for some time after we accept the job. If you are pondering a move to a new institution, it may help to reach out to trusted colleagues at your current campus to discuss the deeper reasons for working where you do. Besides practical concerns that convince us to stay, like location, compensation, or flexibility, it can be rewarding to know that there are others around us who share our interests, both in good times and bad.

Discussion Questions

In this section, I conclude with questions for further learning and application.

  • What ordinary virtues are most salient in your life? How well do they fit with the duties of your current position?
  • Describe the moral operating system(s) prevalent on your campus. How well do they align with the principles and/or values of your institution?
  • How do your personal qualities and virtues align with the principles and values of your institution? What ordinary virtues do you and your colleagues share?


Beauchamp Jr., N. J., Croson, R., David, P., Hendrick, R., Jeitschko, T. D., Largent, M., Long, C. P., & Sisk, C. (2018, July 11). Can Michigan State recover and chart a new path for higher education? Eight deans outline three imperatives for creating needed cultural change. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from eight-deans-michigan-state-university-outline-three-imperatives-cultural-change

Boyer, E. L. (1990). Campus life: In search of community. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Drezner, N. D., Pizmony‐Levy, O., & Pallas, A. (2018). Americans’ views of higher education as a public and private good. New York, NY: Teachers College.

Gallup. (2018). “Confidence in Institutions.” In Depth: Topics A to Z. Retrieved from

Ignatieff, M. (2017). The ordinary virtues: Moral order in a divided world. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kennedy, K. (2018, June 28). How to avoid a federal investigation. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from

About the Author

Jonathan O’Brien is assistant professor of educational leadership at California State University, Long Beach, where he teaches in the Student Development in Higher Education master’s program and educational doctorate. He teaches courses in law and ethics, leadership, and qualitative research methods and his scholarship focuses on professional competencies in student affairs practice and moral development.

Developing Resilience by Managing Staff Wellbeing during Crisis Response and Recovery

Christina Diggs
Kyle Fassett

Spanning concerns related to mental health, campus safety, and sexual violence, today’s emergency preparedness landscape in student affairs is enmeshed in crisis. When we look at crisis as “a perception or experiencing of an event that exceeds the person’s current resources and coping mechanisms” (James & Gilliland, 2013, p.23), it is clear how both small and large emergencies might evolve to critical status for the students involved. Moreover, by replacing the word “person” with an organizational unit, the definition also helps us to understand the nature of crisis on behalf of a department, division, or institution. Often overlooked in this interplay between student and institutional crisis, however, is how front-line responders in student affairs both experience and are affected by critical campus events.

As the emergency response landscape in student affairs continues to grow, front-line crisis responders might agree that handling critical incidents on behalf of both their students and their institutions, day in and day out, takes a personal toll. In keeping with the aforementioned definition, critical incidents often can be chaotic, challenging to navigate, and overwhelm those responding (James & Gilliland, 2013). Lipsky and Burk (2009) remind us, “It can be humbling to realize how much we have in common with those we attempt to help.  Our pain and strategies for healing may look much the same as theirs” (p. 122). Therefore, as college student educators focus on helping others in the aftermath of a crisis, it is equally important to focus on professionals’ own needs. Following a crisis, it is important to address the resulting effects of trauma exposure, which has the power to transform those responding (Lipsky & Burk, 2009).

This article discusses the imperative for self-care on the part of student affairs responders to help combat the natural anxieties that arise in managing high-risk emergency environments. We believe that self-care not only respects the professional, physical, and psychological needs of student affairs administrators, it also allows practitioners to operate at maximum capacity in instances of crisis. To carry out these goals, we will share three lived experiences related to crisis management in student affairs as illustrations of why personal wellbeing is important in emergency management work. We will then return to the three cases to demonstrate hands-on examples of how wellness can be incorporated into student affairs emergency management. Finally, we will discuss how personal/professional wellness can ultimately lead to developing staff resiliency.

Crisis Realities: Three Lived Crisis Management Experiences

First-hand accounts of emergency management provide a particularly strong window into the complexities involved in campus emergency management. As such, the following three scenarios offer perspective on the challenges student affairs administrators face with respect to self-care as a front-line responder on a college campus. Each follows Amari, a mid-level student affairs administrator in a Dean of Students office at a large, urban institution in the Northeast. The campus is integrated with its surrounding city and enrolls large populations of both on-campus and commuter populations.

Case One: A Nearby Bombing Puts the Campus Community on Alert

After returning from a camping trip with no cell phone service for two days, Amari returned to alerts of an explosion that had occurred a few blocks from the campus. Amari immediately contacted their supervisor, who knew of their plans to be away, to get up to speed on the situation and to see how they could help. Amari’s supervisor shared that the on-campus and on-call staff had responded effectively alongside emergency personnel. More of the story unfolded, revealing that another explosive device had been found nearby. Again, the staff had collaborated with partners across campus to ensure the safety of students and their community. Amari subsequently checked in with the staff responding on campus to see how they and the students were doing following the incident.

While Amari and their supervisor were thankful that no one from the campus community sustained injuries in the incident, they were still keenly aware that the bomb-related events left students, faculty, and staff shaken.  Many raised questions about how the incident unfolded and how the division of student affairs’s response played out. Amari’s staff created opportunities for members of the campus community to speak with administrators, public safety, counselors, and their peers. As the campus reopened and day-to-day activities resumed, the department continued to review emergency response protocols and made recommendations to strengthen emergency response for future incidents of this nature. The incident left staff with concerns and fear about the community around them as they wrestled with how to make sense of an external event reaching so close to home.

Case Two: A Student Suicide Leads to Feelings of Loss and Disengagement

Nearing the final exam period in the spring semester of another academic year, public safety contacted the Dean of Students Office with the information all student affairs administrators dread: a student had committed suicide in a nearby academic building.  Emergency personnel were on their way while public safety secured the area. They requested student affairs staff to join them on the scene.  Two of Amari’s colleagues responded on-site while Amari stayed in the office. Amari’s role involved fielding phone calls and in-person inquiries while preparing for a campus notification.  The staff spent the rest of the day in close contact with one another, readied space for counseling support, coordinated class relocations, and sent external inquiries to the appropriate campus partners.

The campus environment contributed significantly to the type of response Amari’s colleagues provided.  They considered the public nature of where the incident occurred, the quick spread of information to local media outlets, the scarcity of space across campus, and the fast-paced lives of the students at this particular campus. It was a long day, and the staff’s souls were heavy as they left campus. The Dean of Students team had worked well together and had provided support to the community in the ways they could. However, even this sense of accomplishment did not erase strong feelings of loss and disconnectedness that came from the experience.

Case Three: A Crisis-Filled Year Leaves a Sense of Despair

The final case reflects a significant number of crises in fast succession that culminated into a particularly challenging year for Amari and the student affairs department. The fall semester began with a hurricane that caused widespread damage to the surrounding area. The campus where Amari worked was without power for a significant time, and, as a result, closed for a week while also serving as an emergency shelter for the local community. Amari’s team encountered even bigger challenges when the campus reopened. They assumed responsibility for over 500 returning students who were commuter students living in the hardest hit areas. Many of these students had lost everything, and others were part of families and workplaces that faced catastrophic loss following the hurricane. Recognizing an ongoing need for support on many different levels, the Dean of Students Office arranged academic support, financial resources, housing referrals, and counseling services. The stories of each student, the pictures they shared, and the documentation that outlined their circumstances drained the team and left indelible memories of loss. While the reward of providing assistance and connecting students to resources provided some respite, the challenge of comprehending the magnitude of the community’s collective loss was still palpable.

As the year went on and the physical damage repaired, many aspects of Amari’s routine fell back into place, but the wear and tear of crisis on the staff only deepened.  Several students passed away from health-related issues following, but not related to, the hurricane. Again, the staff worked to support the community as the campus dealt with another kind of loss.  Later that year, a student committed suicide off campus, and Amari’s department collaborated with faculty, students, and staff to remember the student’s life and build support for the community affected by this death. Ultimately, the combination of these incidents left the staff with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. There had been no reprieve to what seemed like an endless stream of crises over an entire academic year.

Understanding Crisis Response and Wellbeing

Although emergency management is incumbent upon all college leaders, the responsibility often weighs heavily upon student affairs administrators. Ensuring the continuity of college life for all constituents is one of our most basic and significant roles on campus requiring immense personal investment in the well-being of others, sometimes at the expense of ourselves. We are bound to such ambitious goals by the profession’s ethical standards (Council for the Advancement of Standards, 2015) and generally ascribe to these directives as a matter of not just professional duty, but personal conviction.

As evidenced by the three lived experiences shared in this article, crisis intervention can have differing levels of impact on student affairs administrators on the front-line. Amari’s experiences with the nearby bombing and the student suicide demonstrate two opposing functions that stress has on emergency responders (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2005). On the one hand, stress drives the adrenaline, motivation, and focus required to act under pressure at maximum capacity. On the other hand, stress that lingers in the wake of a traumatic event can interrupt first responders’ physical, psychological, cognitive, and social patterns. This explains why Amari intuitively excelled at responding in the moment to the nearby bombing crisis. Stress provided the clarity needed to collect information quickly, deliberate potential consequences to both students and the campus community, and anticipate other plausible dangers that could arise from the bomb scare. It also explains Amari’s reflections on the student suicide wherein the incident affected the staff personally, emotionally, and deeply well after their professional obligations had ended.

Related to stress, another concept well-known to first-responders helps us to understand Amari’s reaction to the crisis-filled year. Namely, when student affairs practitioners exert energy for punctuated periods of time to remedy others’ crises without appropriate attention to self-care, the encounters can lead to physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion – often referred to as burnout (Gilliland & James, 2013). In turn, when burnout persists over long periods of time it evolves into compassion fatigue (Gilliland & James, 2013). Professionals who encounter compassion fatigue often deny their own emotions, become overloaded with emotion, or even awaken dormant emotions. In some circumstances, professionals may even begin to mimic or project a crisis onto their own lives.

Strategies for Self-Care: Three Lived Experiences Revisited

While stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue are very real, and often anticipated, outcomes of crisis response, we are left with the question of how to combat such negative outcomes in our daily work. A return to Amari’s lived experiences helps bring possible solutions into focus.

Case One: Validating Deep-Seeded Feelings through Incident Debriefing

Following the nearby bombing incident, one of the most impactful interventions Amari experienced to promote self-care involved incident debriefing. Incident debriefing takes place in a timely fashion following a response and allows a space for first-responders to explore their personal and professional reactions to the stress encountered during a specific crisis response (Potter, n.d.). In keeping with this practice, Amari called a meeting of the department team on the first workday following the incident to discuss their collective crisis response efforts. Time was allocated to share team members’ personal and emotional reactions to the incident alongside a review of departmental protocol.

As the conversation unfolded, Amari realized that they held remorse over having been away and unreachable as the event unfolded. Amari wrestled with what it meant to have a staff respond directly to a scary and serious incident, but to be a manager who was absent for such a critical experience. Pondering that remorse, Amari wondered how they could take time away and focus on their own wellbeing while campus life continued. Further, they were concerned that stepping away for self-care might result in missing other serious events on campus. Amari’s supervisor pushed back on these thoughts, stressing the importance of self-care and reminding them that the group worked as a team. Because crisis arises in unpredictable times and locations, each person on the team might not always be on-site. Amari was grateful for the support from their supervisor and for the opportunity to share concerns, reflect, and receive feedback.

Recognizing the need to alleviate the physical stress that had built up as a result of the nearby bombing incident, a colleague trained in yoga and meditation practices offered a meditation session for the staff later in the week. This led the team to consider implementing a meditation group on a more regular basis for those interested.  Although these were small ways to focus on the needs of Amari’s staff, the follow-up actions focused attention on healing administrators alongside healing the student community. Ultimately, the combined efforts contributed to an enhanced confidence in the staff’s capacity to continue supporting students and the ability to return to everyday work.

Case Two: Returning a Sense of Control through Exercise

On par with yoga as a strategy for relieving stress induced by crisis response, working purposeful exercise into one’s routine can also be a positive self-care tactic. Exercise has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety for first-responders (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2005). This explains why after returning home after a long day of crisis response activities related to the student suicide, Amari intuitively felt compelled to go for a run, no matter how drained they felt from the day’s events. Amari went to a nearby park and let their physical outlet evolve into an emotional catharsis. Throughout the run, Amari cried, expelled anger, and vented feelings of helplessness. In retrospect, Amari realized just how much tension and anxiety had built up throughout the day.

Taking the time to exercise and to let emotions flow was important to Amari’s overall healing process after the student suicide. Running connected Amari to an activity they enjoyed outside of crisis response. The act of controlling the route, distance, and time of the run returned a sense of personal control after an event that induced feelings of helplessness. Finally, running was an activity that Amari could ultimately work into a regular routine such that self-care could become a priority on a regular basis. Establishing a routine ultimately led to a sense of stability and strength such that Amari could return to work, prepared for future crisis response responsibilities.

Case Study Three: Healing through Storytelling

Sharing stories of crisis encounters helps responders to embark on a path of healing by allowing a space for responders to make meaning of their experiences, come to terms with the outcomes, build communities of support, and share their gained wisdom to help others (Seeger & Sellnow, 2016). Following suit, Amari recounts that sharing their story through diverse outlets has been key to climbing out from the crisis-filled year. Of particular note, Amari found healing in the process of developing a professional conference presentation related to reflections on the intervening year.

As the year in question came to a close, a call for proposals for a regional conference crossed Amari’s desk. At first, Amari saw this as a venue simply for sharing with student affairs colleagues the knowledge accumulated amidst such unrelenting crisis. To that goal, Amari teamed up with a colleague from another institution who studied emergency management. As it turned out, the process of developing the proposal and presentation proved even more valuable than anticipated. Amari took up the challenge to connect these lived experiences with their colleague’s theoretical perspective, deepening their insight into the intersection of theoretical approaches to emergency management and unfolding crisis events. The evolving conversations compelled Amari to reflect on the incidents and acknowledge their contributions to their resolution.  The act of presenting their ideas reminded Amari that universal challenges for crisis responders endure across campuses and in diverse contexts. During the presentation, sharing her experiences with others helped Amari realize that others could be better prepared because of their own work. Once on the verge of burnout and compassion fatigue, Amari was personally and professional revitalized. Amari had found a positive side to having been challenged by the year’s overwhelming sequence of responder trauma.

Developing Resiliency out of Stress and Self-Care

Through the lens of Amari’s lived experiences as a front-line emergency responder in student affairs, we gain deeper insight into both the impact crisis can have on professionals in that role and strategies for combatting resulting stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue. The question we are left with, then, is how student affairs administrators might strengthen their capacity to return to this task time and again without sacrificing their own personal and professional well-being. The answer lies in a connection between leadership and resiliency.

Leadership is a key competency required of student affairs administrators by our professional values (ACPA & NASPA, 2015) and a necessity for managing the complex terrain of crisis management (Wooten & James, 2008). Good leaders demonstrate skills in communication, time management, organization, planning, and judgment. Good leaders also evidence the quality of resiliency, or an “understanding [of] ways in which one can bounce back or recover after a setback” (Seemiller, 2013, p. 133). Ultimately, resiliency is achieved through exercising good habits of stress-resistance. Stress resistant leaders display personal control. They pursue personally meaningful tasks, make healthy lifestyle choices, and know when to seek support from their social networks (van der Kolk, 1987).

One tool for bouncing back after a crisis is reflection, or using lived experiences as a tool for learning. Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel (2014) posit that the more difficult the learning experience, the stronger the resulting knowledge. Moreover, the more nuanced the reflection, the more prepared an administrator will be for similar situations in the future. Another tool for bouncing back after a crisis is introspection, or the capacity to recognize and analyze one’s own personal reactions, emotions, and needs in light of events that have transpired (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2005). A third tool for bouncing back after crisis is self-care. As discussed throughout the paper, finding ways to work through the impacts of physical and psychological stress in the wake of handling crisis renews one’s resolve for persevering as a first-responder in student affairs. A final, and often overlooked, tool for bouncing back after crisis is an optimistic outlook. An optimistic outlook helps student affairs administrators keep adversity in perspective. It helps leaders recognize that they can work through adversity and that the lessons learned through crisis response can be used, in turn, to successfully face future challenges (DuBrin, 2013; Duckworth, 2016).

In order to procure these tools, student affairs administrators must be encouraged to do so in an environment that supports open and free reflection, introspection, and self-care on the part of emergency responders (Gilliland & James, 2013). Each of us may have different keys to unlocking our own wellbeing, but identifying those strategies and acting on them will build resilience over time.  This is critical in being able to manage staff wellbeing through crises. Practitioners in supervisory and leadership capacities should model this behavior for others and provide opportunities for staff to develop skills, support one another, and reflect and grow following crises they encounter.


The need to develop strategies around wellbeing is clear when considering the current challenges across our campuses alongside the expectations of today’s student affairs professionals.  The trajectory of our careers will be marked by our ability to respond to crisis in the moment as well as our ability rebound and serve as effective leaders over the long term.

When developing policies and protocols in preparation for emergencies, we must build in wellness mechanisms and a holistic approach to support not only those directly connected to incidents, but also our teams. It is important to consider that each person has different needs and a variety of strategies that will work best to support them in the short and long terms. In evaluating the resources offered in literature, professional competencies, and best practices, a wide range of strategies and outcomes emerge. Administrators must learn to evaluate his or her own needs in the wake of crisis response and feel empowered to pursue the strategies that fill those unique needs best address those needs. Personal reflection is critical for mobilizing self-care and for compelling strengthened professional resiliency. By taking steps toward personal wellbeing before, during, and after crises, student affairs practitioners will be able to more astutely persevere in managing student concerns and build a career of successful emergency management.

Discussion Questions

  • When the focus of our profession is on caring for others, how and where do you develop tools for self-care?
  • How can you frame crisis incidents as learning opportunities for students and for yourself?
  • What additional strategies can you employ to promote an environment of increased wellbeing for your team, office, and/or department?

About the Authors

Christina Diggs received her Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and religion studies from Lehigh University.  She completed her Master of Education degree in educational leadership in 2008, also at Lehigh.  Chris has worked in the field since then in the areas of career development, residence life, student conduct, and crisis intervention.  She currently works at the Fashion Institute of Technology as the Director of Residential Life.

Kyle Fassett received his Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Design from the State University of New York at New Paltz. He completed his Master of Arts in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University in 2014, and began a career in Residence Life & Housing at the University of Delaware. In Fall 2017, Kyle began as a Ph.D. student at Indiana University-Bloomington with an assistantship in the Center for Postsecondary Research.


ACPA: College Student Educators International & NASPA − Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. (2015). ACPA/NASPA professional competency areas for student affairs educators. Washington, D.C.: Authors.

Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Campus Safety and Security. (n.d.). Retrieved September 25, 2016, from

Council for the Advancement of Standards. (2015). CAS statement of shared ethical principles. In Council for the Advancement of Higher Education (Ed.), CAS professional standards for higher education (6th Ed.). Washington, D.C.: Author.

Crisis. (n.d.). In Oxford Dictionary online. Retrieved from

Drysdale, D., Modzeleski, W., and Simons, A. (2010). Campus attacks: Targeted violence affecting institutions of higher education. U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, U.S. Department of Education, and Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice. Washington, D.C., 2010.

Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. New York, NY: Scribner.

FEMA. (2016). National response framework. Retrieved September 29, 2016, from

Gallagher, R. P. (2010) National Survey of Counseling Center Directors

Gilliland, B. E., & James, R. K. (2013). Crisis intervention strategies. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.

Lipsky, L. v. D., Burk, C., & Safari Books Online (Firm). (2009). Trauma stewardship: An everyday guide to caring for self while caring for others. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Potter, D. (n.d.). Debriefing the trauma team: Taking care of your own. American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Retrieved at .

Seeger, M. W., & Sellnow, T. L. (2016). Narratives of crisis: Telling stories of ruin and renewal. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Seemiller, C. (2013). Student leadership competencies guidebook: Designing intentional leadership learning and development. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2005). A guide to managing stress in crisis response professions. DHHS Pub. No. SMA 4113. Rockville, MD: Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (1987). Psychological trauma. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Wooten, L. P., & James, E. H. (2008). Linking crisis management and leadership competencies: The role of human resource development. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 10(3), 352-379. doi:10.1177/1523422308316450

The Myth and Practice of Grief in Student Affairs

written by Taylor Gladieux and Michelle L. Boettcher

The field of Higher Education is one that emphasizes holistic wellness among college students. We are taught to ask probing questions, we give time for students to progress through the stages of development, and we comfort them in their array of emotions that they experience whether it be homesickness or a breakup or even family crisis or changing majors because of grades or other issues. We are good at this. We develop competencies around being good at this.

What higher education administrators are not always the best at, however, is taking care of themselves. We work in a field in which putting the needs of our students above our own is celebrated. You put in extra hours for the group you advise? You get recognized as a great adviser. You gave up a night out to be present at an on-campus event? You are seen as a practitioner who is always there for students. You answer a student staff member’s email over the weekend begging for help with a program two weeks away? You are amazingly responsive and caring. Us, too. We totally get it. Though we foster a culture that emphasizes self-care, we do little as a profession to integrate this into our own practice, profession, and lives. This lack of integration threatens the retention of many practitioners, but especially those who are grieving.

This article is the result of us, as authors, sharing our personal experiences of grieving, and we have found one common denominator: it is different for everyone. Yet, we have seen many colleagues and friends treat grief with a sort of prescribed script of words and actions. As helping professionals in the field, we want to offer some comments, reflections, and recommendations on how to better navigate these conversations and reactions to our peers who are grieving and provide perspective on how this, ultimately, will make us all better at our jobs and better human beings with one another.


October of 2016 changed my entire life. I was walking to class, preparing for my first midterm of graduate school, when I received the call that my mother was missing. Yet, fifteen minutes later, I walked in and took the exam. In the days and week that passed, I experienced many of the stages of grief; however, the most profound experience was the deafening lack of conversation surrounding my mother’s death by suicide.

I was someone who was particularly open about my mom’s passing, and though people sent warm wishes it often ended in “let me know what you need.” I know these responses were, and are, good-natured. But—as someone who is navigating grief for the first time, trying to hold together pieces of her family, and integrate back into graduate school—I was drowning in what I needed and lacked the articulation to share that. So, I threw myself into my work. Student Affairs is a time-consuming field—filling my time was not difficult. I volunteered for committees, joined campus coalitions, ran for our honor society’s executive board. What I realized was difficult, though, was keeping that grief inside of me. I saw this grief manifest in ways I didn’t expect: lack of patience with my peers/students surrounding things that stressed them out (didn’t they know how stressed out I had been about returning), lack of emotional control (okay, I wasn’t always great at this, but now I was crying just because someone just looked at me), and isolation even among a family of seven.

I want to tell you that this all got better because of one thing. But the reality is that that didn’t happen. It took many more manifestations before I realized I couldn’t ignore my grief anymore. I started going to counseling, and talking about that, too, because hiding therapy made it seem like something I was ashamed of. I used my grief as a platform to connect with others who were grieving by speaking on survivor panels. Now, I have moved into my final year of graduate school, and the smaller impacts of my loss have begun. I went to the campus health center; my mom was still my emergency contact – had to change that. My best friend got married, and I saw the ways in which my mother will never get to be a part of that day for me. My students complain about their parents and my thoughts went to “but at least you HAVE them.” These are small things, but things that have impacted my worldview and my interactions with students. The whole world looks and feels different, but this difference doesn’t mean that my life is over. I just have a new way of doing everything now, but I don’t think people were ready for the changes in me when it came to my work or my interactions.


I got a call from my mom the first week of classes in the fall of 2017. I knew it was not good news because she never called late at night. My younger brother had been fighting cancer for the past three years. (He was diagnosed the week after my father died from a long battle with cancer in 2014.) The next day my youngest brother called to let me know he had died. Having been through the grieving process with my dad a few years earlier, I thought I knew what to expect.

My father died during my first year as a faculty member. He had been sick for a long time, and we knew it was coming. I happened to be home working on a research project when it happened. I was there, my family there, and I had a sense of closure. Based on that experience, I thought the same would be true with Erik’s passing: I would be sad. I would spend time with family reminiscing and being sad and also celebrating and learning things I hadn’t known about my brother.

That was not my experience. I’m sure there are many reasons – Erik was young and he was younger than I am. We knew my dad’s passing was imminent, but we were still holding out hope for Erik’s treatments. I worried about how this would affect my mom and my youngest brother Kirk in ways that were different from when Dad passed.

Similarly, I thought I knew how I would engage with people who wanted to offer thoughts and support. I would respond and thank them. I would appreciate the people around me. I would move forward. I had it all planned out.

Guess what doesn’t really care what your plans are? Grief. I didn’t feel as connected to my teaching that semester as I had in the past. I didn’t manage my emotions as well as in the past. I would be caught off guard repeatedly for months by sadness. I’m not generally a sad person, so the experience of being sad, in and of itself, was a new and difficult challenge. I think some people had in mind a timeline for my grief, and when it took me longer to work through it, they didn’t understand why. My difference at work and beyond didn’t make sense to them (or me). Others didn’t necessarily attribute the difference to my loss. There seemed to be expectations that I could not meet, a lack of understanding around my shortcomings, and resistance to me more regularly saying no and creating boundaries so I had space to figure things out.

Moving Forward

So why share our stories? Grief is messy, it’s individualized, and people shouldn’t expect it to work a certain way or follow a certain timeline. Typically, what people expect is 1) Loss, 2) Sadness, and 3) Getting Over It. What it really looks like is 1) Loss, 2) Navigating that Loss, 3) Something Different again. Sad-mad-glad. Sometimes even “okay.” What we want to offer from our perspectives is a better model for supporting each other, and by extension our students, around grief. We add “our students” only because we know you student affairs people. We know that you might do things for yourself that could benefit students even if you won’t do them just for yourselves.

Where We Could Do Better

In student affairs we want to be appreciated for all we are offering and all we can do – even if it requires a skill set we don’t have or can’t use at some given time. What we need to recognize first is that if we don’t have the time, energy, confidence, or willingness to go deep in the experience, we probably shouldn’t offer to do that. It’s okay to say, “Are you hurting?” And when the person says, “Yes,” it’s okay to say, “I’m so sorry.” And leave it at that. That’s much more appropriate and far less selfish than saying, “What can I do?”, but then backing out or not showing up fully when someone starts to work through the process with you.

Further, you may want to ask and have the ability to show up, but be inclined to avoid conversations surrounding loss entirely. Don’t. The losses we have endured are not something we forget. You saying something about your mom, or asking about mine, will not make her absence any more noticeable to me. Some days I am begging for someone to ask me to share memories with them—this is a huge part of how I keep someone alive.

We recognize that this may be different for some people, which leads us to our next suggestion: Do not offer your opinions on our grief management. If you have ever experienced a loss, you will know that the process is unpredictable, and people never know when the smallest thing will hit them. We need to make space for this in the workplace. If a colleague is returning after a loss, we need to know that maybe they will cry in a staff meeting—and this might not be the first week back, but maybe five months later. That is OKAY. We should not act uncomfortable or shame them in any way for breaking professional façade.

Often, this lack of confrontation of our genuine feelings when and where we experience them leads those who are grieving to suppress their feelings altogether. When feelings are suppressed, they then are likely to manifest in many unhealthy and problematic ways. This becomes hazardous when it affects our work with students. To be doing quality work, we must first be able to adequately care for ourselves, and so this space for grieving is necessary.

Good Practice in Action

One thing that we realized in writing this piece is that, at times in some of the drafts, we felt like we were overly critical of others. This is really difficult stuff—for the person experiencing the loss and for those who care about that person. We know that. We’ve been on the other side of loss and the grieving process, too. We have undoubtedly made our own mistakes. With that in mind, we also wanted to highlight some things people have done that have been tremendously helpful because through our experiences there were many moments that people surprised us with their kindness and genuine care.

Small moments. Most of the most profound comments and actions were simple acts of caring or outreach, like someone sending a quick email saying, “I hope you’re okay. Thinking of you.” As we mentioned earlier, acknowledging the loss or reaching out in a caring way is not going to remind someone that they are grieving. They know and live that on a daily, sometimes moment-to-moment, basis already.

Here is a more specific example from Taylor: A friend bought me a Clemson Christmas ornament because they knew my mom got me one every year for a significant event in my life that year. This showed not only a sense of care for me, but also was a way of honoring and recognizing my mom and my connections to her. Obviously, the holidays can be particularly difficult for people. This meant a lot to me.

Workplace practices. In both of our experiences, our colleagues were gracious as we navigated our processes. Colleagues allowed us to say “I’m not in a place to be here right now,” and let us work from home. Similarly, they let us be physically present even if we weren’t always as fully engaged or connected to conversations as we had been in the past.

In addition to emails (as mentioned previously), leaving cards or notes so that we could engage with things on our own time was helpful. While reaching out face-to-face can be helpful, it also can require the person grieving to engage in the moment, and at work, which can sometimes be a space where a person navigating loss may not want to process or share how they are doing. Support and care can also be demonstrated through actions that show genuine care, rather than conversations in which people attempt to relate to grief.

Respecting difference. All of the above should be taken as it is being offered – our perspectives. While the two of us connected and found some common themes in our experiences, we are obviously a pretty small sample of people. Others will experience loss in different and unique ways. In order to be really supportive, the best advice we have is to ask the person what they want or need and to leave the door open for following up because wants and needs change with the ebb and flow of grief. While we are drawing from lessons learned, we also know that grief is a highly individualized process with many, many variables to consider.


To those in the field who are also navigating loss: we want to share some thoughts with you, as well. It is okay to be where you are. There is no timetable for your grief and we cannot assume everything will be the same after this. Change is predictable (though the form that change takes often is not), and it will be new but okay. You shouldn’t be afraid to share your genuine feelings with your peers and students—we encourage our students to do this all the time. Also, asking for help from friends, or getting help from a licensed professional, can be good. This takes courage, and resources, so we recognize this will not be the path for everyone. In our experience, however, often people will show up when you express that you do, in fact, need them to do better for you. We promise, something will grow from all that you are going through—and it will be you.

To those of you who reach out in ways that are focused on the other in their moments of grief, who ask what they want or need and respond accordingly, who don’t take it personally when those who are in the midst of grief need time and space and engage differently: thank you. To those of you who send email messages even after others assume the time of grieving has passed, and who offer encouragement in seemingly small ways that don’t require the person who is hurting to attend to your needs in order to make you feel like a good person for your support: you are indeed good people and we are grateful to you.

In a field where attending to others is often our calling, and putting others before ourselves is often our self-imposed obligation, attending to the self in times of grief is essential, even as it is also uncomfortable. Having the support of our teams at work makes a huge difference. We have to continually remind ourselves that self-care is not selfish.

Michelle Boettcher is an assistant professor at Clemson University. She teaches research and law and ethics and her research focuses on senses of belonging and connectedness and the experiences of first generation college students.

Taylor Gladieux is an academic advisor at Clemson University and has worked in residence life. She has experience in a variety of roles and trainings in higher education related to the support of students and colleagues around personal, professional, and academic issues.

Teaching Strategies to Enhance the Accessibility of How College Affects Students

John M. Braxton
Professor Emeritus of Leadership, Policy and Organizations

Higher Education Leadership and Policy Program, Peabody College of Vanderbilt University
Resident Scholar, Tennessee Independent College and University Association
Affiliate Scholar, USC Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice

Email: [email protected]

The selection of course readings constitutes an important choice in planning for a course. Svinicki and McKeachie (2014) posits that the objectives for a course play a key part in the selection of course readings. The effects of college on students is a possible topic for inclusion in a course on the college student experience offered in a student affairs program at either the masters or doctoral degree level. Faculty members who teach such a course may choose to include the effects of college on students as one of the topics covered in their course. Because of this choice, a knowledge and understanding of the effects of college on students constitutes an important objective for such a course. Faculty members who delineate such a course objective may also designate familiarity with existing research on the effects of college on students as a course objective.

How College Affects Students: 21st Century Evidence That Higher Education Works by Matthew J. Mayhew, Alyssa N. Rockenbach, Nicholas A. Bowman, Tricia A. Seifert, and Gregory C. Wolniak with Ernest T. Pascarella and Patrick T. Terenzini stands as volume that would assist faculty members teaching a course on the college student experience to achieve these two course objectives by assigning it as required or optional course reading.

However, the choice of this book as a course reading presents challenges to faculty members.   In my review of this book published in the Journal of College Student Development (2016) I asserted that “How College Affects Students: Volume 3 presents a formidable challenge for scholars and practitioners to navigate its contents” (2016, p. 1060). This assertion also pertains to the previous two volumes of this trilogy: How College Affect Students: Findings and Insights from Twenty Years of Research (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991) and to How College Affects Students: A Third Decade of Research (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Accordingly, I will refer to all three volumes as How College Affects Students in this article.

The use of How College Affects Students as a course reading presents a challenge to both the course instructor and to students enrolled in the course because it is in the form of a review of literature rather than that of a traditional textbook. As a review of literature, the content of the chapters of this volume consist of descriptions of the methods and results of different empirical studies rather than the synthesis of knowledge and conclusions about content typically presented by textbooks. While the open-ended framing of the text presents great flexibility for instructors and students to leverage the empirical findings as is most applicable for their practice and scholarship, this form presents the challenge of leaving it to readers find ways to both learn from and make use of the content of this book for their own research and practice.[1]

Given the challenge in using How College Affects Students as a required text, what strategies do faculty members who use this book in their courses use to make this volume more accessible or comprehensible and user-friendly to their students? Stated another way: what strategies do faculty members use to help students learn from and make use of the quantity of empirical studies that comprise the chapters of this volume?

Approach to the Identification of Strategies

I emailed faculty at a range of higher education and student affairs programs to gather the strategies they or their colleagues used to make How College Affects Students more accessible to students in their current or past classes. The use of an email message as method of gathering such strategies is appropriate given the type of information I requested. More specifically, my questions were straightforward and were not measuring concepts derived from theory or literature. I did not use a random sampling approach. Convenience sampling best depicts the approach I used. I did not use a listserve but rather sent email messages directly to each individual. I personally know some of the faculty members I emailed. Some of these individuals directed me to a colleague who was teaching a course on the college student experience. Given the information I requested in my email message, personal relationships with the emailed individuals would have little or no biasing influence on their responses.

In my email message, I asked faculty: “Do you use How College Affects Students in any of the courses you teach? If yes, what strategies do you use to teach from it given its enormity and complexity? I am working on a manuscript that will describe strategies faculty use to teach it.”   I received responses to my email message from 20 faculty members who provided me with various strategies pertinent to different aspects of course design and course delivery. Most of these responding individuals hold the academic rank of associate or full professor. These responding individuals teach at colleges or universities located in various geographic regions of the United States. I arrayed these aspects of course design and course delivery into the following categories: Overview of the Use of the Book, Lectures, Course Readings, Course Assignments, and In-Class Activities.

The categories listed above provide the basis for the organization of the compilation of strategies obtained from faculty members who either currently use or have used How College Affects Students in their courses. I obtained permission from these faculty members to attribute their suggestions to them in the text of this article. For each strategy, I indicate the name of the individual and their college or university. The designation of the individuals by names and by institutions provides readers with more information about the faculty members who responded to my email request. Such information includes the name of their college or university, which indicates the geographic region of their institution. In developing these strategies, I modified the text of their suggestions to fit the format of declarative statements of a strategy.

The Strategies

In this section, I describe strategies for instructors to follow in their use of How College Affects Students (HCAS) to make more accessible to students. I organize this presentation of strategies according to the following categories of course design and course delivery: Overview of the Book to the Class, Lectures, Course Readings, Course Assignments, and In-Class Activities. These strategies function as an equivalent to an instructor’s guide to HCAS.

Overview of the Use of the Book

Faculty members frequently provide introductory remarks about the textbooks or other assigned reading to students in their classes. Accordingly, faculty members who assign HCAS as either required or optional reading may provide their students with an overview of the ways students should use this volume. Some uses include its role as a resource for participation in class discussions and in completing course assignments. Examples of an overview of HCAS are as follows:

  • It is unrealistic for students to read the entire book during a semester. Students need to become familiar enough with its format and content to use it as resource (Robert Reason, Iowa State University)
  • Introduce the book as a resource book for other research and summary of research ideas (Vasti Torres, The University of Michigan).
  • Use Astin’s (1993) Input-Environment-Outcomes Model to frame discussion and use HCAS to discuss outcomes (Ann Gansemer-Topf, Iowa State University).
  • Tell students that they are expected to read HCAS thoroughly and critically so that they can participate fully in the course, as well as to achieve its course learning outcomes (Laurie Schreiner, Azua Pacific University)
  • Encourage students to use HCAS as a resource and as a reference by having students use the index and table of contents of HCAS to locate summaries pertinent to the theme of week. For example, if the week was going to be on faculty-student interaction, have students learn more about the relationship between faculty-student relationships by referencing HCAS (Kimberly Griffin, University of Maryland).
  • Use HCAS to encapsulate the student experience (Nathaniel Bray, The University of Alabama).
  • Use sections of HCAS related to student engagement and retention as supplemental reading to support the contents of other textbooks by providing a broad sense of research related to student engagement (Brenda McKenzie, Peabody College of Vanderbilt University).
  • Use HCAS as a resource manual for students to understand how types of colleges, student characteristics, experiences, etc. may influence the outcomes of attending college (Ann Gansemer-Topf, Iowa State University).


These strategies pertain to the organization of a lecture rather than the content of lectures. Such strategies include a short lecture on the use of HCAS, lectures augmented by a schema such as a Mind Map, or lectures that provide students with guidance on the use of HCAS to frame class activities and class discussion. The underlying purpose of these strategies is to help students understand how each of the specific research studies described fit into a broader pattern of findings from which some conclusions may be drawn. These strategies are as follows:

  • Give a small lecture on how to read HCAS by outlining the various categories of research (e.g., “Change during college;” “Net effects of college”) so that students understand what is being assessed and so that they recognize the importance of the distinctions between these broad categories (Robert Reason, Iowa State University).
  • Construct a mind map of a portion of the chapter for reference during class discussion. For example, start with the Conditional Effects of College portion of the chapter and create spheres for each student group (African Americans, Latino/as, Students of Color, etc.). Next, branch out from each sphere to connect factors that were demonstrated to support students’ success — or other observations that are important to highlight. Repeat this process for one or two of the sub-sections in the Within-College Effects section of the chapter and have students overlay the student characteristic spheres (Jennifer Tharp, Messiah College).
  • Direct students to relevant sections of HCAS as needed. Direct students to relevant section in one of two ways: topical focus or effect focused. Topical focus – the class would find an outcome of interest and explore all the different things that may be contributing to it by reading a single chapter with a particular emphasis on one outcome rather than all the outcomes in the chapter. (2) Effect focused – the class would use both the index and an understanding of where a particular conjuring factor or independent variable might show up within their framework (e.g., conditional effects) and then look through each of the chapters to find what outcomes might be affected by that intervening variable (Bradley Cox, Florida State University).

Course Readings

As I previously stated in this article, HCAS presents a daunting challenge for scholars and practitioners to navigate its contents (Braxton, 2016, p. 1060).   This section offers suggestions on the assignment of course reading of HCAS. These suggestions offer ways to scale down the contents of HCAS into more manageable parts for students to acquire a knowledge and understanding of the effects of college on students and to use its content to complete course assignments. These suggestions are as follows:

  • Assign sections rather than entire chapters. At the end of the semester assign them chapter 10 the summary chapter of HCAS by Mayhew et al. (Vasti Torres, The University of Michigan).
  • Avoid assigning entire chapters for students to read. Students are overwhelmed by the individual research studies and miss the key points (Ann Gansemer-Topf, Iowa State University).
  • Assign Chapter 10 of HCAS by Mayhew et. al. and then ask students to read the summary section for specifically assigned chapters. (Alberto Cabrera, The University of Maryland).
  • Assign only chapter 10 of HCAS by Mayhew et al. Discuss with students the research methods used to develop the book and recommend that they read chapters based on their interests in a particular topic (Jungmin Lee, University of Kentucky).

Encourage students to skim all chapters and read the introductory, the concluding chapters and their chosen outcome chapter for one of the course’s graded assignments (Susan Longerbeam, University of Louisville).

  • Assign a group of students to read one chapter from chapters 2 to 9 in HCAS by Mayhew et al. Only the students in each group reads this focal chapter. Instruct students to select their chapter based on their research or professional interests. (Laurie Schreiner, Azua Pacific University).

Course Assignments

This category of strategies includes a range of assignments for which students receive a grade that counts toward the grade they receive for the course. These graded assignments include research papers, discussion and reflection papers, group class presentations, and course examination questions. These assignments require students to engage in deep level learning as these assignments require a higher order understanding of course content as contrasted with rote memorization of course content (Entwistle, Hanley, & Ratcliff, 1979). These course assignments are as follows:

  • Write a paper on the outcome area you selected that synthesizes the findings of Mayhew et al. and those of the journal articles you located. In this discussion paper, provide a brief summary and critique of the journal articles you located (e.g., What was the research question(s)? What methods were used? What were the findings of the study? What are the conclusions or implications of the study? What is your critique of the study?) Compare and contrast the findings from your journal articles to the research contained in HCAS by Mayhew et al. related to your chosen outcome. Based on the findings from Mayhew et al. and the journal articles you read, identify at least three practical suggestions/implications to improve student success in your chosen outcome area that are derived from the findings reviewed in Mayhew et al. and/or the articles of your choice to support those suggestions/implications (Laurie Schreiner, Azusa Pacific University).
  • Make a group class presentation. Ask students choose a chapter, based upon their interests. Students then group into teams of 3-4, study the chapter in-depth, and present to the full class a chapter synopsis, incorporating active learning such as a Jeopardy quiz on key chapter outcomes (Susan Longerbeam, University of Louisville).
  • Write a final research paper on a topic related to student outcomes, present in the final class, and submit as the summative assignment. Students are required to review and cite original research articles referenced in HCAS (Susan Longerbeam, University of Louisville).
  • Write a blog with a classmate about a collegiate environment (e.g., living-learning community, study abroad, diversity courses) covered in HCAS. This blog should be based on an extraction of relevant information from chapters of HCAS related to your and your partner’s chosen environment (Matthew Mayhew, Ohio State University).
  • Write a paper that describes citations since the publication of HCAS to specific articles referenced in HCAS concerning the relationship between an experience/environment and outcome of interest. This assignment provides students with a sense of the intellectual trajectory of this relationship and understand the opportunities to contribute to the literature (Tricia Seifert, Montana State University).
  • Develop a list in response to the question: “What should a college graduate know, be able to do, and value?” With this list, you will articulate your own definition of what it means to be a college-educated person. As you develop this list imagine that you now work for After you complete your list, share it with at least three peers or professional colleagues and ask for their feedback on your list. What was their initial reaction? Do they agree? Do they disagree? What would they have added or subtracted from the list? Also consider sharing your list on social media to solicit feedback from a broader group of people who do not work in higher education. How do perspectives between higher education professionals and others converge or diverge? Come to class prepared to discuss your list and the perspectives and feedback others shared with you. (Assignment developed by Dr. Tiffany Davis and provided by Alyssa Rockenbach, North Carolina State University).
  • Identify two or three recent news articles (e.g., in Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Huffington Post, or other news source) that relate in some way to one of the outcome categories described in HCAS. Write a three-page reflection to critically analyze the issues raised in the articles. What problems or perspectives are introduced in the news articles? How might the issues be addressed using evidence from the research related to the particular outcome category? What do you recommend to higher education professionals and faculty contending with such issues on campus? (Alyssa Rockenbach, North Carolina State University).
  • Propose an Educational Intervention and Assessment Project. The project is designed to help you accomplish the following: (1) articulate the value and significance of a particular category of student outcomes; (2) evaluate and synthesize research devoted to the category of student outcomes, with attention to nuances for diverse student sub-populations; (3) identify an opportunity within a unit of the Division of Academic and Student Affairs(DSA) to strengthen student outcomes in the category of outcomes you are studying; and (4) develop an “intervention” informed by your thorough evaluation of current research that may help the DASA unit facilitate student learning and development in the category of outcomes you have identified.   Using your knowledge of relevant assessment frameworks and approaches, create an assessment plan that could be implemented to determine whether your intervention “works” in facilitating the outcomes in the specified category of outcomes you selected (Alyssa Rockenbach, North Carolina State University).
  • Write a paper that uses HCAS as its resource. In this paper focus on a particular (E)Environment (within or between), and trace the influence of this selected environment across the O’s (Outcomes) and among the I’s (Inputs) with attention to conditional effects (Greg Wolniak, New York University).
  • Write a paper that entails the application of theory and research on the effects of college on students to policy and practice. This assignment takes the form of a 2 to 3 page, double-spaced, typewritten paper that describes a policy, program, or activity/activities that uses theory and research on the effects of college on students as a foundation. This paper must not exceed 3 double-spaced pages. References are not included in this page limitation (Nathaniel Bray, The University of Alabama).
  • Complete a take home examination that requires a paper of 3 to 5 double-spaced typewritten pages. The maximum length for this paper is six double-spaced, typewritten pages. This page limit does not include references. The question is as follows: An undergraduate college education may be viewed as socialization to the role of an educated person in society. Merton defines socialization as “the process through which individuals acquire the attitudes, values, norms, knowledge, and skills needed to exist in a given society. Given this definition of the socialization process, what are the values, attitudes, knowledge, and skills that undergraduate students acquire as the consequence of attending college (net effects)? In responding to this question, clearly identify the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that you have identified from your course readings. Do these outcomes of socialization vary across different types of colleges and universities (between college effects)? Your written response should address these two questions (John M. Braxton, Peabody College of Vanderbilt University).

In-Class Activities

This category of strategies consists of activities faculty members assign to groups of students to complete during class time. These strategies constitute forms of active learning. Active learning involves any class activity that “involves students doing things and thinking about the things that they are doing” (Bonwell & Eison, 1991, p. 2). Research shows that active learning activities increase the knowledge and understanding of course content acquired by students (Anderson & Adams, 1992; Johnson, Johnson & Smith, 1991; and McKechnie, Pintrich, Yi-Gang & Smith, 1986). The following in-class activities require groups of students to actively engage with the content of HCAS.

  • Direct class discussion towards larger questions than the findings of specific studies reviewed in HCAS. For example, instead of focusing on the private returns to a college degree direct the class discussion to why a bachelor’s degree confers an earnings premium in developed countries and how its indirect effects are mediated by how college graduates live their lives (Ernest Pascarella, The University of Iowa).
  • Assign small groups the task of distilling key findings from each type of analysis (i.e., net effects, within college effects, between college effects, conditional effects) in a given chapter of HCAS and then share highlights as key take aways with the class as a whole (Rosemary Perez, Iowa State University).
  • Ask a group to identify the “secret sauce” of promoting cognitive growth by selecting up to five mechanisms for promoting such growth. Instruct the group to provide empirical support for that mechanism across various studies (Nicholas Bowman, The University of Iowa).
  • Assign small groups to provide a summary of a section of a chapter of HCAS. The whole class and the instructor ask probing questions of these groups (Steve Desjardines, The University of Michigan).
  • The instructor and the class produce an I-E-O model for each chapter of HCAS that reflects the evidence discussed in the chapter. This activity leads to a diagram for each chapter that summarize the kinds of I’s (conditional effects) and E’s (within or between effects) that appear to foster development in that chapter’s O’s (Greg Wolniak, New York University).
  • Assign groups the task of designing a campus-wide student success plan for a new institution using HCAS as a basis for this design. Create groups by institutional type such as a religiously affiliated liberal arts college, commuter campus of a regional public university, a community college and a selective research university (Nicholas Bowman, The University of Iowa).
  • Begin class with a reflection activity that gets students to think about what parts of their college experiences contributed towards movement or achievement of a particular outcome described in HCAS. This reflection activity generates a narrative to affirm what is known from the research, to challenge it, and to consider how it might be extended (Rosemary Perez, Iowa State University).
  • Assign students to one of three groups. Students are instructed to use HCAS as a resource for addressing the task of the group. The three groups are as follows:
    1. A consulting firm hired to help admissions counselors articulate the benefits of a college education to the families of diverse traditional-aged students. Their attention span is short, so you want to highlight 3-5 of the most well-researched benefits that would matter to these families. Keep in mind that some of the families are very affluent, some are quite poor, some are well-educated, some are less so. What are the benefits of a college education for their student?
    2. A higher education lobbying firm that is meeting with Congressional leaders to convince them not to add additional regulations on higher education for accountability, because there’s already good evidence that what we’re doing works. Congressional leaders’ attention spans are even shorter, so focus on the 3-4 most solid areas that you “know” impact students’ lives. Your lobbying firm represents private higher education institutions of varying selectivity.
    3. President’s Cabinet making budget decisions in a tough year. You have resources to increase funding to only 2-3 key programs or areas of campus that have the most potential to impact students, and it will be at the cost of other programs – so you want to base your decision on solid research about what aspects of college are most beneficial. (This strategy is a modification of Jigsaw Learning used by Laurie Schreiner, Azusa Pacific University).
  • Divide the class into five groups. Ask each group to use findings described in HCAS to inform various public and institutional policies. The assignments for each of the five groups are as follows:
    1. A commuter institution is considering building some residence halls. What would your group recommend?
    2. A college or university is considering the elimination of social fraternities and sororities. What would your group recommend?
    3. A state is considering the level of its funding to its state-supported HBCUs. What would your group recommend?
    4. A college or university is concerned about the level of moral development of its students. What institutional policies or practices would your group recommend furthering the moral development of its students?
    5. Other than the goal of increasing the diversity of undergraduate college students, what are the benefits to students of diversity? A college or university wishes to catalogue the benefits of enrolling a diverse student body (John Braxton, Peabody College of Vanderbilt University).
  • Assign groups the task of using research derived from HCAS to advocate for higher education and additional resources to improve some academic outcomes. This task also involved the groups providing rationales for their requests that were grounded in the research described in HCAS (Rosemary Perez, Iowa State University).

Closing Thoughts    

As previously stated, the use of How College Affects Students as a required text presents a stiff challenge to faculty members. Given its enormity and complexity, how can faculty members make it more accessible to their graduate students? This article addresses this question by describing an array of teaching strategies that pertain to such categories of course design and course delivery as an overview of the book to the class, lectures, course readings, course assignments, and in-class activities. Faculty members requiring HCAS can select the strategies described herein that best meet their goals and objectives for the course as well as those of the graduate students enrolled in the course.

Two issues remain that require some attention by faculty members who require or make optional HCAS. Because these two issues lie outside the scope of this article, I close by posing two reflection questions for faculty members to consider. These questions are as follows:

Question One: Are some of these strategies more appropriate for doctoral level students than for master’s degree level students?

Question Two: Do any of these strategies inspire you to develop your own strategies?

Author: Dr. John M. Braxton is Professor Emeritus of Leadership, Policy and Organizations, Higher Education Leadership and Policy Program of Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. My research interests include the study of college and university faculty members and the college student experience. I am a recipient of the Research Achievement Award bestowed by the Association for the Study of Higher Education and the Contribution to Knowledge Award given by ACPA – College Student Educators International. Both awards are for outstanding contributions to knowledge that advance the understanding of higher education. I served as the 9th Editor of the Journal of College Student Development for seven years from 2008 to 2015. I also served as an ACPA Senior Scholar from 2013-2017. I am also a past President of the Association for the Study of Higher Education.


Anderson, J. A. & Adams, M. (1992). Acknowledging the learning styles of diverse student populations: Implications for instructional design. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, (49), 19-31.

Astin, A. W. (1993) What Matters in College? San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.

Bonwell, C. &Eison, J. (1991). Active Learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. AAHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1. Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.

Braxton, J.M. (2016). Book Review of How College Affects Students Volume 3. 21st Century Evidence That Higher Education Works. The Journal of College Student Development, 57 (8), 1059-1061.

Entwistle, N. J., Hanley, M., & Ratcliffe, G. (1979). Approaches to learning and levels of understanding. British Educational Research Journal, 5(1), 99-114.

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K. A. (1991). Active learning: cooperation in the college classroom. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.

Mayhew, M.J.,Rockenbach, A.N., Bowman, N.A., Seifert, T.A. and C. Wolniak, G.C. with Pascarella, E.T. and Terenzini, P.T. (2016). How college affects students. 21st century evidence that higher education works (Vol. 3). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.  

McKeachie, W. J., Pintrich, P. R., Lin, Y. G., & Smith, D. A. F. (1986). Teaching and learning in the college classroom: A review of the research literature. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (1991). How college affects students: Findings and insights from twenty years of research. San Francisco, CA: Jossey­Bass.

Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (2005) How college affects students: A third decade of research (Vol. 2). San Francisco, CA: Jossey­Bass.

Svinicki, M. & McKeachie, W. J. (2014). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers, 14th Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning


[1] I asked Jenna W. Kramer, who earned her PhD student in Leadership and Policy Studies with a specialization in higher education from Vanderbilt University, to comment on the challenge that How College Affects Students presents to both the instructor and student. I asked for her comments because she enrolled in my course on the college student experience that required How College Affects Students as a text. I wish to acknowledge and express my appreciation to Dr. Kramer for her comments that provided clarity and keen insight on the challenge presented by this volume.

Stuck in the Middle: How Student Affairs in Community Colleges Can Manage the Completion Agenda

Thomas J. Bratton, Jr., M.T.S.
Western Carolina University

Needham Yancey Gulley, Ph.D.
Doctoral Student, Educational Leadership
Associate Professor, Higher Education Student Affairs
Western Carolina University

Community colleges, with their mission of open access, serve the diverse demographics of their geographic communities, many of whom have been historically marginalized. Because of this open access mission, community colleges must promote student success for those who need it most (Heelan & Mellow, 2017). In promoting a more just and equitable society, community colleges have the opportunity and responsibility to model how institutions can influence change for greater social justice (Heelan & Mellow, 2017). Through modeling just and equitable programs and services, community colleges can shape other institutional systems within their communities as well as the attitudes and values of their students. Central to these endeavors are student affairs professionals who support student and institutional outcomes.

In the community college setting, the task of student affairs departments is to collaborate with other departments, including academic affairs, as well as the community, to achieve the shared mission of the institution.  At their most basic, student affairs units focus on recruitment, admission, registration, engagement, support, and retention (Latz, Ozaki, Royer, & Hornak, 2017). Because community colleges welcome all, the students who enroll come with a variety of hopes and needs. Student affairs departments must meet these students in their unique situations, with their unique personalities, and help them navigate the systems necessary to achieve their goals (Cohen, Brawer, & Kisker, 2014).

Unfortunately, this is not easy to accomplish, as there have been and continue to be structural, systemic, and financial barriers to the desire of community colleges and, specifically, student affairs units to support students’ unique goals and the creation of more equitable spaces within the communities they serve (Latz et al., 2017). Some of these barriers have been intentional and some have arguably come in the form of unintended outcomes of seemingly positive public policy, for example, the completion agenda. The college completion agenda has placed community colleges in the forefront of the policy movement which emphasizes college completion as a main tenant. This policy places additional stress on community colleges to increase the rate at which their students’ complete degrees, which on the surface is a goal with which many can agree but may harbor unintended consequences that also hinder the low-income, minority, first-generation, and adult student groups community colleges serve (Gill & Harrison, 2018; Latz et al., 2017) . The agenda, which has led to funding being tied to completion rates, is also embedded with the assumption that the only reason a student would attend community college is with a goal of completion (Harbour, 2018).

Who Community Colleges Serve

Community colleges are an integral part of the higher education system in the United States. There are over 1,000 community colleges across the country in all 50 states and they enrolled 12.2 million students in 2017 (AACC, 2017a). The vast number of enrolled students means that many who attend college currently have their beginnings in a community college environment. Community colleges are critically different than their four-year counterparts in a variety of ways, including who they serve, their mission, their curricular offerings, and their place in national policy.

Currently there are a total of 1,108 community colleges, 982 of which are public institutions producing 806,766 associate degrees and 516, 820 certificates in the 2014-2015 academic year (AACC, 2017a).  Community colleges are still diverse in their curricular offerings including transfer education, vocational education, and adult education. In 2014-2015, 47 percent of the associate degrees awarded were in career and technical education (AACC, 2017b). Also. between 2000 and 2014, the number of certificates awarded at community colleges increased by 236 percent (AACC, 2016). The diversity of programming and the number of students who begin their education at a community college show the impact that community colleges have on American higher education.

Given community colleges’ unique organizational structure, it is no surprise that low-income students would take advantage of the lower tuition, flexibility to accommodate working students, and open access policies of local two-year colleges. Cross (1971) stated, “the majority of students entering open-door community colleges come from the lower half of the high school classes, academically and socioeconomically” (p.7). Socioeconomic status of dependent students attending two-year colleges tends to be lower than those attending four-year institutions. In 2003-2004, 26 percent of community college students as compared to only 20 percent of four-year college students came from the lowest income level (Horn, Nevill, & Griffith, 2006). Currently 58 percent of students attending community colleges receive financial aid and 35 percent of this aid is through Pell Grants, which are available for the lowest socioeconomic levels (AACC, 2017a).

Community colleges’ dedication to recruiting untapped and underserved segments of the population has given rise to the growth in enrollment of ethnic and racial minorities. In 2010, students of color represented 42 percent of all community college enrollments nationwide (Cohen et al., 2014) and currently encompass 52 percent of the total student population that is enrolled for credit (AACC, 2017a). When this data is disaggregated by ethnic groups, the level of impact community colleges have on these groups becomes more clear. Of all undergraduate students, community colleges enroll 56 percent of all Native Americans (1.3 percent of the US population), 52 percent of all Hispanic students (17.8 percent of the total US population), 43 percent of all Black students (13.3 percent of the US population), and 40 percent of all Asian/Pacific Islanders (5.9 percent of the total US population) (AACC, 2017a; US Census Bureau, 2016).

Much has been written about whether community colleges have aided these populations in progressing through higher education or if they have hindered their progress for access and completion (Bailey, Jenkins, & Leinbach, 2005; Bragg, 2001; Jalomo, 2002; Philibert, Allen, & Elleven, 2008). Those who say community college has aided these groups point to minimal entrance requirements, ease of access, and low tuition as proof that community colleges provide entrance into higher education that would otherwise be lost on these populations. Critics argue that students who begin their education at a community college are less likely to complete their educational aspirations than those who enter four-year institutions.

Completion Agenda

In his first State of the Union address, President Barack Obama set a national goal, “By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world” (White House Press Office, 2009).  This broad-based initiative has spurred the development of new policies that push degree completion and tie institutional performance to degree attainment. In order to meet the college completion objective, many foundations have put forth goals to obtain these numbers. The Lumina Foundation for Education (2009) is pushing to increase the proportion of Americans with degrees or credentials to 60 percent by 2025 and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has set similar goals (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, n.d.).

Community colleges heard this charge and in 2012 called to action their community partners. The Commission’s report, Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future (AACC, 2012), set a goal of increasing rates for completion of community college credentials by 50 percent by 2020, while preserving access, enhancing quality, and eradicating attainment gaps across groups of students. The report set forth seven major recommendations connected to attaining that goal: increase completion rates by 50 percent, dramatically improve college readiness, close the American skills gap, refocus and redefine the mission, provide collaborative support structures, participate in advocacy, and increase accountability.

Interviews with higher education leaders reveal that despite the admirable goals of the completion agenda, many believe the focus on completion has increased pressure on the community college system to produce a workforce and eroded the focus on holistic education for students (Cohen et al., 2014). In this way the completion agenda has altered the focus from open access and individual development to student completion as the singular measure of success. Prior to this agenda, student outcomes in these institutions could be more individualized, something lost in the demand to think about success in only one way (graduation). This is a major shift for community colleges who have, traditionally, been community and student focused. These changes have created a tension in community college practices, particularly for the developmental and justice-orientated efforts of student affairs professionals in those settings.

Caught in the Middle

Student affairs departments often experience market and entrepreneurial pressures that place the financial needs of the institution over the developmental needs of students. Lee and Helm (2013) refer to resource dependency as a move to align what the marketplace needs with what the community college provides. In the past, community colleges not only instructed students in academic matters, but also were given the responsibility for the moral and ethical development of students. That role has shifted to a more consumerist approach (efficient, effective, accountable) to help students compete in an increasingly global economy (Levin & Kater, 2013), which is a driving factor in the completion agenda (Harbour & Smith, 2015; Lee & Helm, 2013). But, this approach centers completion or graduation as the only measure of students’ success. This agenda, then, fails to acknowledge the myriad of other reasons that students might attend a community college or the inherent hardships with which students enter these institutions.

The values that support academic capitalism (i.e., revenue generation, commodification of programs, efficiency) can often be at odds with the values of student affairs professionals (access, affordability, collaboration, cooperation, diversity, justice, fellowship, service) (Lee & Helm, 2013). The desire for higher completion rates is grounded in the global economy, not in the desire for students to become better community members, neighbors, parents, or even co-workers (Harbour, 2018). Community colleges must not become trapped in accepting completion as the singular success measure, but instead must be intentional about developing students who will become good citizens who seek the betterment of the community in which they live (Kisker, Weintraub, & Newell, 2016), while allowing students to define their own goals and, thus, their own success measures.

Call and Response – Meeting Student Needs

Student affairs units in community colleges are well-situated to mitigate the demands of the completion agenda with the mission of community colleges as open access, community-focused institutions that value equity and students’ ability to define their own success. In the community college context, student affairs has a complex role, working with first generation, academically under-prepared, and transfer students. Student affairs professionals have an influential opportunity to embody principles of social justice that increase their abilities to address inequalities, focusing on pedagogy and process (Latz et al., 2017). Student developmental capacities are connected to students’ abilities and desires to persist in and meet their educational goals, whether those are to graduate or not. The community college structure and the student’s resilience play a vital role in creating a culture of success (Kuh, 2009). The role of the student affairs department could be framed as a “call and response” spiritual, in which the student expresses a statement of what matters and the institution responds with evidence that informs and encourages (Weber, 2017, p. 317). These “calls” are rooted in the desire to belong, to be safe, and to know that education is worth the time.

If students are to risk connecting with others in a new context, they must know that there are others like them there. Student affairs professionals can help them understand how other students in similar situations are achieving (Weber, 2017). Connecting these students to one another can create a sense of belonging and increase persistence.

Students also need to know that they can overcome their challenges and recognize their strengths, which can be aided by the help of student affairs professionals who know each student, find resources to help them succeed, and encourage them along their journey. Feeling secure is a key component of resiliency (Weber, 2017). Students know that finances, academic preparedness, and family responsibilities can make achieving their goals seem overwhelming. Helping alleviate these fears and focusing on strengths can lead students to  meet their goals.

Students hope for a better future that will result from the attainment of their educational goals. Students wonder if the time, money, and energy spent on their studies will result in a good return on their investment. Community colleges must respect the challenges being faced by students and remove barriers, as well as provide credentials that are valued in the community (Weber, 2017). Connecting students to internships, jobs, and other community engagement opportunities can inspire students to achieve a better future.


The completion agenda has increasingly focused on credentialing students so that they might be well-prepared to enter the workforce and compete in the global economy. This agenda centers the ability of colleges to set up the United States for economic prosperity but is less concerned with supporting developmental or economic outcomes for individual students and their families. These latter outcomes are the focus of community colleges, and those working in these institutions are currently being judged and rewarded (ie. funded) based on the national economic impact while working to stay true to institutional missions rooted in individual and community impact. The completion agenda has failed to recognize developmental and justice-oriented practices and outcomes associated with community college practice. Student affairs professionals in community colleges have a unique opportunity to address the emotional, spiritual, and social needs of students to unlock their growth which can, in turn, lead to increased completion rates and national economic gain, if considered as a secondary (not primary) imperative. To do this, student affairs professionals must avoid deficit thinking and focus on the terrific strengths these students have that we can capitalize on in order to support student outcomes (Weber, 2017). Community colleges have an opportunity to promote a holistic understanding of student success, which can lead to greater rates of completion, contributions to a global economy, creation of better citizens who serve in their own communities, and advocacy for justice and equity in a divided world.


American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). (2012). Reclaiming the American Dream: A report from the 21st Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges. Washington, DC: Author.

American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). (2016). Data Points. Retrieved from

American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). (2017a). AACC Fast Facts 2017. Retrieved from

American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). (2017b). Data Points. Retrieved from

Bailey, T., Jenkins, D., & Leinbach, T. (2005). What we know about community college low-income and minority student outcomes: Descriptive statistics from national surveys. New York, NY: Teacher’s College. Retrieved from

Baston, M. A. (2018). Elevating student affairs practice in community college redesign. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 1-6. doi: 10.1080/10668926.2018.1446057

Bragg, D. D. (2001). Community college access, mission, and outcomes: Considering intriguing intersections and challenges. Peabody Journal of Education, 76(1), 93-116.

Cohen, A. M., Brawer, F. B., & Kisker, C. B. (2014). The American community college (6th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cross, K. P. (1971). Access and accommodation in higher education. Research Reporter, 6(2), 6-8.

Gill, P. W., & Harrison, L. M. (2018). The completion agenda impact on student affairs practice in community colleges. Community College Journal of Research and Practice42(11), 797–811. Retrieved from

Harbour, C.P. & Smith, D.A. (2015) The completion agenda, community colleges, and civic capacity. Community College Journal of Research and Practice40(2), 100-112.

Harbour, C. P. (2018). The completion agenda in community colleges: What it is, why it matters, and where it’s going. Community College Review, 46(2), 223-225. doi:10.1177/0091552118757644

Heelan, C. M., & Mellow, G. O. (2017). Social justice and the community college mission. New Directions For Community Colleges, 2017(180), 19-25. doi:10.1002/cc.20277

Hirt, J. B., & Frank, T. E. (2013). Student development and consumerism: Student services on campus. In J. S. Levin, & S. T. Kater (Eds.), Understanding community colleges (pp. 37–52). New York, NY: Routledge.

Horn, L., Nevill, S., & Griffith, J. (2006). Profiles of undergraduates in U.S. postsecondary education institutions, 2003-04: With a special analysis of community college students. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Hulbert, A. (2014). How to escape the community-college trap. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Ivory, B. T. (2012) Little known, much needed: Addressing the cocurricular needs of LGBTQ students. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 36(7), 482-493. doi:10.1080/10668926.2012.664086

Jalomo, R. (2002). Assessing minority student performance. New Directions for Community Colleges, 112, 7-18.

Kisker, C. B., Weintraub, D. S., & Newell, M. A. (2016). The community colleges’ role in developing students’ civic outcomes. Community College Review, 44(4), 315-336. doi:10.1177/0091552116662117

Kuh, G. D. (2009). What student affairs professionals need to know about student engagement. Journal of College Student Development, 50(60), 683–709.

Lamb, C., Uong, J., Haynes, C., Coley, E., Valdes, L., & Wendel, D. (2017). Trial and error: How student affairs staff in community colleges learn to supervise, Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 1-4. doi: 10.1080/10668926.2017.1343690

Latz, A. O., Ozaki, C., Royer, D. W., & Hornak, A. M. (2017). Student affairs professionals in the community college: Critically examining preparation programs from a social justice lens. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 41(11), 733-746. doi: 10.1080/10668926.2016.1222507

Lee, J. J., & Helm, M. (2013). Student affairs capitalism and early-career student affairs professionals. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 50, 290–307. doi:10.1515/jsarp-2013-0021

Levin, J. S., & Kater, S. T. (2013). Understanding Community Colleges. New York, NY: Routledge.

Lumina Foundation for Education. (2009). Lumina Foundation’s strategic plan: Goal 2025. Indianapolis, IN: Author.

Philibert, N., Allen, J., & Elleven, R. (2008). Nontraditional students in community colleges and the model of college outcomes for adults. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 32(8), 582-596.

Raby, R. L., Friedel, J. N., & Valeau, E. J. (2017). Comparing completion agendas at community colleges and global counterparts. New Directions For Community Colleges, 2017(177), 85-94. doi:10.1002/cc.20244

United States Census Bureau. (2016). Quick facts: Population estimates, July 1, 2016, (V2016). [Data file]. Retrieved from:

Weber, M. (2017). Re-imagining student affairs: Connecting leadership to institutional effectiveness measures. In S. Whalen (ed.) Proceedings of the 13th annual national symposium on student retention, Destin, Florida (pp. 313-324). Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma. Retrieved from

White House Press Office. (2009, July 14). Remarks by the President on the American Graduation Initiative in Warren, MI. Retrieved from

Bill & Melida Gates Foundation. (n.d.) What we do: Postsecondary success strategy overview. Retrieved from

Letter from the President

“We must not only resent and be angered at injustice; we must simultaneously be in love with justice, and we must be in love with each other.”

I am moved by this sentence, written by our brilliant colleagues Stephen Quaye, Rachel Aho, Dre Dominigue, Florence Guido, Melissa Beard Jacob, Alex Lange, Dian Squire, and D-L Stewart, in the Bold Vision Forward: Framework for the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization (2018, p. 11).

This one line, this one BOLD line, encapsulates everything about the future of higher education and the future of student affairs. Yes we need to continue our advocacy and action against injustice. Yes we need to continue our efforts to imagine and shape a world built for justice. Too often, I think, we weigh too heavily on one side or the other. Either too much anger, or too much hope. The former leads us to become anarchists without grounding in community; the latter leads us to become misplaced idealists lost in our naivete. We need the harmony of both.

But the profoundness of their words lies in the last part: “we must be in love with each other.” We have forgotten how to love in these times. Somehow, we have dropped love from the equation. Our love shows up in pockets and certain places, but we don’t live in it. Perhaps we dabble in it. I know the hate and injustice and pain around us is a lot, and sadly, there is no rest from its attacks. But we cannot begin to transform our communities or transform our profession without living in love.

And yet there is hope. There is a growing consciousness, and a profound community of activists and leaders who are picking up and expanding the efforts to love more deeply and more broadly. I feel moments of light within the darkness, and I am inspired.

As I think about what this means for us as an association, I also know that ACPA is a place where we practice our best selves, with grace, accountability, and love. We may be imperfect in our practice, but love is very much centered in who we are—and always has been.

ACPA, almost 96 years young, is marching boldly to 100. We are a vibrant, strong association, clear in our knowing of who we are, but also perpetually in our process of becoming. We continue to boldly work for the transformation in higher education, boldly work for equity and justice, and boldly work for scholarship and practice.

When I started in the role of president last March, I wondered about some key questions:

  1. How does/will ACPA prepare students to live in a just and inclusive society?
  2. How does/will ACPA prepare and engage student affairs professionals to embark on/join that journey?
  3. How does/will ACPA shape and change institutions to be more just and inclusive?

As we progress toward 100 years, we need to consider some of these questions and reflect on possible answers. We have some good guides to do this: the board is completing a new strategic plan to guide our work, and the membership approved a new mission statement to guide our purpose. I am proud of the clear naming of who we want to be in answering these questions:

ACPA transforms higher education by creating and sharing influential scholarship, shaping critically reflective practice, and advocating for equitable and inclusive learning environments.

As we continue our work, we need to understand these questions individually and collectively, and explore the answers that come up. We need to also be prepared to change our practice while we work on boldly transforming higher education. And we need to do the challenging work to live in love throughout.

It will be hard, and scary, and require our deep vulnerability. In the words of Nakia from the Black Panther comic, the sister of T-Challa, who also served as Black Panther: “We are strong enough to care for others AND protect ourselves.” This is not the time to succumb to fear, but exactly the time to embrace love.

Our work is not abstract or theoretical. The quality of the work we do, and HOW we do it (linked to our values) has real impact on real people. We need to know how we are preparing students to co-create and live in a just society. We need to know how we are preparing ourselves to guide that work. We need to know how we will shape and change our institutions, and higher education, to be more just and loving. Again, we have a bold vision, and some bold templates to get us started.

I ask you to join us in this journey.

Craig Elliott
Samuel Merritt University (CA)
2019-2020 ACPA President