ACPA’s Influence on Equity and Inclusion: “Becoming More Fully Human:” Transforming Student Affairs through Social Justice

Brian J. Reece
University of Oregon

Finding its roots in a partnership with the National Association of Deans of Women as the National Association of Appointment Secretaries in 1924, ACPA-College Student Educators International (ACPA) has perhaps always had a predisposition for social justice education (ACPA, 2013c). As early as 1937, public documents like the American Council on Education’s Student Personnel Point of View, for which ACPA was a contributor, discuss financial issues faced by students and urge higher education institutions to prepare students to engage in “cultural interests” of their communities and “to assume those individual and social responsibilities which are essential to the common good” upon graduation (p. 9). Of course, when this document was written, there was very little racial, economic, or gender-based diversity to speak of in higher education. Still, Torres, DeSawal, and Hernandez (2012) argue that the statements of this document “take on a more complex understanding today with an increased diversity” (p. 27). Just over a decade later, in its second iteration, we can see this Point of View evolving already by asserting that institutions should develop in students “an appreciation of cultural values, the ability to adapt to changing social conditions, [and] motivation to seek and to create desirable social change” (American Council on Education, 1949, p. 20).

ACPA’s history of contribution in words has been admirable, but the Association has also done its best, often ahead of its time, to take to action. ACPA has a strong history of its words being full of both reflection and action, what Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire (1993) calls the “praxis” of authentic dialogue: “To speak a true word is to transform the world” (p. 68). Indeed, ACPA has transformed its own world—that of student affairs. The profession of student affairs overall has almost always considered the student in a holistic sense, but ACPA has long focused on equitable and inclusive visions of that whole. For example, in 1968, at the height of the Civil Rights movement, ACPA commissioned a Task Force on Race and the College Community, which eventually morphed into the Standing Committee for Multicultural Affairs (Bennett, 2012). Bennett (2012), who is Past Chair of the commission, wrote that it “has evolved into one of the key components in the mission and vision of ACPA, to foster college student learning and to provide advocacy, outreach and professional development.” This committee, of course, was followed by several others centering on social identity and social justice, including committees on women, disability, men and masculinities, and LGBT awareness.

One area of focus for ACPA over the decades following the establishment of the Commission for Multicultural Affairs was to develop in the profession a new ability to support the diversifying student population at higher education institutions in the United States. This identity-based approach mirrored that of colleges and universities, which began erecting centers and offices dedicated to specific identities and ways of being. As Laird Bridges, Morelon-Quainoo, Williams, and Holmes (2007) assert, recreating a sub-culture similar to the environment of Historically Black Colleges and Universities may in fact increase success for students of color at Predominantly White Institutions. Centers like this, which have found support in ACPA for some time through standing committees, can do just this, and their contribution to the development of an overall social justice effort within ACPA is certain. Still, this approach is naturally a fractured methodology. With the emergence of theories of intersectionality and an attunement to the intersection of multiple oppressed identities, a new way of thinking about social justice education began to emerge. In 2005, the Commission for Social Justice Educators (CSJE) was established “to provide a collaborative home for college student educators working in the areas of diversity and social justice education” (ACPA, 2013a). The core function of this newest commission is to bring together the various factions and to focus on social justice education as a whole—to bridge the gaps within ACPA’s identity-based work. We also see this mirrored by colleges and universities who have created social justice positions, offices of equity and inclusion, and even senior administrators working on diversity-related issues.

ACPA’s commitment to this new way of thinking about social justice education can be seen far beyond the formation of one single commission. In its latest statement of core values, ACPA (2013b) lists “diversity, multicultural competence, and human dignity” and “inclusiveness in and access to association-wide involvement and decision-making.” Further, the position of Director of Equity and Inclusion has become a crucial role on the Governing Board for ACPA—indicating that its words are not merely reflection, but are also calls to action. Recently elected to this position, Kathy Obear has begun an overhaul of ACPA’s equity and inclusion work in an attempt to both streamline the Association’s efforts and to develop new and exciting initiatives. Other examples of actions taken by ACPA after much reflection include the recording of CSJE-sponsored programs at the convention so that those for whom cost is a barrier to attendance may yet learn something, the creation of guides for sustainability in host cities, brochures on socially just eating options in host cities, and a plan for incorporating issues of social justice into the process of selecting host cities and venues for future conventions. These efforts, though grounded in the experience of oppression by individual identities, have taken on a more holistic social justice approach with an understanding of multiple and intersecting identities.

As ACPA looks toward the future of its social justice efforts, a focus on intersectionality clearly continues to be at the forefront of discussions on how to better serve both its members and, more importantly, students in higher education. Intersectionality, born from the realization that our distinctive and multiple identities are overlapping in complex and unimaginable ways, is obviously an important aspect of social justice education; however, it should be foundational rather than directional (Torres, Jones, & Renn, 2009, p. 588). ACPA’s Commission for Social Justice Educators in particular has begun exploring more conceptual frameworks for social justice. Paulo Freire’s (1993) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, for example, serves as an excellent theoretical foundation for this conversation. Integrating ideas and theories across disciplines, Freire (1993) equates Western educational philosophy with that of banking, a method in which information is held by teachers (the oppressors) and passed along to students (the oppressed). At the same time, he introduces a “problem-posing” educational philosophy in which teacher-students and students-teachers work together in order to create new knowledge—the pedagogy of the oppressed (see Chapter 2). What can we learn from Freire and how can we apply this to our social justice education efforts? How have our efforts utilized the banking model, which is inherently oppressive, and how can we transform our efforts into problem-posing ones?

More recent contributions by scholars like Kevin Kumashiro (2002; 2004) have explored how anti-oppressive pedagogical frameworks can contribute to the development of a social justice orientation in a classroom setting. Considering Kumashiro’s foundational work may give the Association a direction and a framework with which to consider the multiple, complex, and overlapping identities of its membership and of the college and university populations at large. Synthesizing psychoanalytic theory, feminist thought, queer theory, poststructural theory, and more, Kumashiro (2002) works toward a new approach to education that counteracts the oppression students have heretofore experienced and internalized. One suggestion utilizes a poststructuralist approach, suggesting that “antioppressive educators can use the notion of citation to examine the intersections and interrelations of multiple forms of oppression and the situated nature of oppression, as well as to explore the changes made possible when laboring to alter oppressive citational processes” (p. 117). What Kumashiro (2002) refers to is the notion that oppression is “produced when certain discourses (especially ways of thinking that privilege certain identities and marginalize others) are cited over and over. Such citational processes serve to reproduce these hierarchies and their harmful effects in society” (p. 50). As ACPA recommits itself to social justice and as student affairs professionals embrace their roles as social justice educators, it is imperative that we begin to think about how the choices we make in our roles as educators are antioppressive and/or oppressive. How are we as individuals, as commissions, and as an association citing oppressive practices and thus reinforcing the very oppression we seek to eliminate?

In our own synthesis of theory from across disciplines, we can begin to place the oppressed into the center of our conversations. It is not necessarily enough to wonder how a decision may impact an individual. Instead, let us ask, “What does this decision feel like for a lesbian female of color?” or “How does this decision change the way in which a student from China who utilizes a wheelchair interacts with this campus physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually?” Kumashiro (2004) asserts that being prepared for uncertainty is crucial to success in teaching and learning toward social justice; although applied to the classroom, its extension to student affairs is evident. Writing about unintentional lessons, such as those taught about gender binaries when men are always asked to move desks and women to tidy up the classroom, he reveals that “the goal is to conscientiously make visible these hidden lessons and the various lenses students use to make sense of them” (p. 41). Reframing the conversation around oppression can help make it easier to understand why arguing the equity of something or the reasons for not including someone are insufficient paths toward social justice.

While this approach obviously does not work for everyone, it is easy to see how an argument for gender-neutral housing options, for example, may be more successful by contending that not offering them is a form of oppression against LGBT students rather than simply an offer of equity and a way to include them. At the very least, it can bolster such an argument and help refute ideas like the following: “We already include LGBT students by allowing them to live with us! They can live in singles if they want.” This response is framed around equity and inclusion—LGBT students are offered similar options and are allowed to be a part of what “we” offer. Still, what does the experience feel like for a student who identifies as transgender? Such a student may feel that they are being isolated or treated differently. Such an option is, of course, often more expensive, which for many, particularly those who are historically oppressed, is not always financially viable. Inviting the oppressed to the center can begin to provide clarity for those who wish to remain blind to the real experiences of oppression within their campus borders.

ACPA is well positioned to be a social justice education leader in the profession of student affairs. With a long history of advocating for the whole student and of being at the forefront of ensuring that all aspects of that whole student are considered and respected, the Association’s position as a change agent in higher education and for college students remains strong. ACPA should continue to push for research that is inclusive and representative of a diversifying student population by paying close attention to the voices of individuals with oppressed identities. In particular, ACPA should continue to be a role model for student affairs educators by demonstrating how social justice education is an integral part of the role of all student affairs educators. The Association already does this in many ways, but it should begin to consider how to do more than advocate for the support of individuals. How can ACPA utilize its influence to make an impact on structures that perpetuate oppression? What can ACPA do to shift its own banking education philosophies toward problem-posing ones? Freire (1993) writes,

Banking education inhibits creativity and domesticates (though it cannot completely destroy) the intentionality of consciousness by isolating consciousness from the world, thereby denying people their ontological and historical vocation of becoming more fully human. Problem-posing education bases itself on creativity and stimulates true reflection and action upon reality, thereby responding to the vocation of persons as beings who are authentic only when engaged in inquiry and creative transformation. (pp. 64-65)

Informed by its own research and scholarship in social justice education and that of many others, ACPA can offer a place in higher education for oppression to meet its end—for all students to become more fully human.


ACPA-College Student Educators International (2013a). Commission for Social Justice Educators. Retrieved from

ACPA-College Student Educators International (2013b). Core Values. Retrieved from

ACPA-College Student Educators International (2013c). History of ACPA. Retrieved from

American Council on Education. (1937). The student personnel point of view. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

American Council on Education. (1949) The student personnel point of view. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

Bennett, Marquis L. (2012, December). Donation letter. [PDF document]. Retrieved from

Kumashiro, K. (2002). Troubling education: Queer activism and antioppressive pedagogy. New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

Kumashiro, K. (2004). Against common sense: Teaching and learning toward social justice. New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

Laird, T. F. N., Bridges, B. K., Morelon-Quainoo, C. L., Williams, J. M., & Holmes, M. S. (2007). African American and Hispanic student engagement at minority serving and predominantly white institutions. The Journal of College Student Development, 48(1), 39-56.

Torres, V., DeSawal, D., & Hernandez, E. (2012). Reflections on the 75th anniversary of the student personnel point of view. K. M. Boyle, J. W. Lowery, & J. A. Meuller (Eds.). Washington, D.C.: ACPA.

Torres, V., Jones, S. R., & Renn, K. A. (2009). Identity development theories in student affairs: Origins, current status, and new approaches. The Journal of College Student Development, 50(6), 577-596.

About the Author

Brian J. Reece is a graduate student in Counseling, Family and Human Services with a specialization in Prevention Science at the University of Oregon. He received his Honors B.A. in English and M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from the University of Delaware as well as a graduate certificate in Nonprofit Management from the University of Oregon. His research interests include gender and sexuality in literature, psychology, and education and the relationship between language and oppression. He currently serves as Vice Chair of Member Services for ACPA’s Commission for Social Justice Educators.

Please e-mail inquiries to Brian Reece.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.